Kratom: Herbal supplement or dangerous drug?
Rehab facilities say they are seeing an increase in the use of a supplement called Kratom by addicts trying to quit heroin and other opiates.
They want to see it out of head shops and convenience stores, but supporters of the herbal supplement, made from a leaf in the same plant family as coffee, said it shouldn't be banned.
The supplement comes in powder and capsule forms and is easy to get. You can just walk into a shop and buy it.
The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) tried to add it to the Schedule I drug list, putting it on the same level as marijuana, cocaine, and heroin, but failed.
In small doses, Kratom works like a stimulant. In large doses, it has effects like heroin and other opiates.
Lawmakers in Florida tried to ban it, the bill died before it could reach the floor for a vote.
Steven Jimenez wants to kick his heroin habit. He started abusing opioids when he was 17 after a surgery.
Staying clean in rehab hasn't been easy. His biggest temptation is Kratom.
"I found anything after I joined the program, Project Hope, to kind of fulfill that feeling of euphoria and Kratom is what I turned to," Jimenez said.
The manager of the drug rehab facility said the fight is on the streets and in addict's minds.
"Counseling these people and really getting to the core issues leading them to addiction and rehabilitating them," said Rico Dimond of Project Hope.
He said Kratom acts as a crutch.
"It gets you high like heroin does, but it also allows you to pass your drug test," Dimond said.
Kratom has supporters. They include customers of this shop, which sells the supplement.
They said it helps users come off opiates.
Kyle Pearson said his best friend used it to get clean.
"And it's not made in some government lab. It comes from a plant, just like marijuana. You don't have to be a genius to see it. That's the natural way and it's usually better," Pearson said.
But Steven said the drug must be taken off shelves.
"You're selling something you are trying to make money off and at the same time, you are helping support somebody's addiction of some kind. You are messing with somebody's life is what you are doing. All for the sake of a dollar," Jimenez said.
Currently, no one has filed a bill to ban the substance in the Florida house for next year's session. According to Kratom legalization groups, Kratom is illegal in seven states, including Alabama.
The supplement is also illegal in Sarasota County, Florida.