Task force briefed on heroin step-down drug

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By Sally Bell – Staff Writer

A tropical plant that can be bought online is being utilized by drug addicts as a step down agent from heroin, a Franklin pharmacist says.

The news came out of Friday’s monthly meeting of the Venango County Drug Overdose Task Force in Franklin.

Franklin pharmacist Shane Judy said drug users are buying kratom, a plant in the coffee family that is native to Southeast Asia, to curb withdrawal from opioid drugs like heroin.

The leaves of the plant can be smoked, turned into capsules, tablets or liquids, or be brewed as tea, Judy said. If someone says they’re “making tea,” they’re probably referring to kratom, he said.

Kratom has been banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration but can still be purchased online, Judy said.

The drug has been outlawed in several Southeast Asian countries, including Thailand, where in 2011 more than 13,000 people were arrested for kratom-related crimes, the pharmacist said.

The drug acts like opioids on the brain but doesn’t cause the same side effects, Judy said.

In low doses, kratom acts as a stimulant; in high doses, it acts as a sedative and can lead to psychotic symptoms and psychological addiction, according to the U. S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

The DEA reports 15 known kratom-related deaths between 2014 and 2016. It is not known if naloxone, an opioid reversal drug, can be used in cases of kratom overdose.

Public conference planned

In other news from Friday’s meeting, it was announced that a public conference on opioid misuse is planned for September.

“Awareness and Support for Reducing Opioid Misuse” will be held from 12:30 to 4:15 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 21, at the social hall at First Baptist Church of Franklin.

The conference is being sponsored by the Venango County Drug Overdose Task Force in collaboration with the MidAtlantic AIDS Education and Training Center.

There is no cost to attend, and the public is invited.

Representatives from county agencies, medicine and law enforcement will be on hand to discuss current options and treatment for opioid misuse and the availability of local resources.

For more information, people can call Marie Plumer, Venango County’s substance abuse administrator and head of the drug task force, at 432-9163.

The task force meets monthly in Franklin to discuss substance abuse issues. The next meeting is at 10 a.m. Friday, Aug. 11, at the Human Services Complex in Franklin.

Anyone who needs immediate help for a drug or alcohol problem can call 432-9111.