Dangerous Drugs Are Just Around Your Corner

A.J. Robey is the Opioid Task Force Specialist VISTA serving in partnership with United Way of Escambia County, AmeriCorps VISTA, and Ministry Village at Olive, Inc. A.J. has recently joined the Addiction Recovery Coalition (ARC), a local coalition consisting of area nonprofits, faith leaders, and community business people. The coalition is focused on raising awareness and educating the community on the dangers of drugs and addiction. A.J. has been asked to lead local efforts as the coalition aims to bring attention to the harrowing effects of addiction throughout our community, and he has begun contacting area legislators and candidates, urging each one to take a strong position against the dangers of drugs threatening our area.

Recently, A.J. let local candidates know about the threat of Kratom (mitragyna speciosa). Kratom is a plant native to Southeast Asia that has been used traditionally for its coca and opium-like effects to enhance physical endurance and reduce stress. Over the past several years, kratom has been growing in popularity in the Western world, and is even marketed as a safe herbal supplement, when in fact, it is an opioid.

On November 17, 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a public health advisory warning consumers not to use kratom or any compounds found within it. On February 6, 2018, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. issued a statement in which he outlined the dangers of kratom and released reports of 36 deaths associated with kratom. Dr. Gottlieb also made it clear, “…as the scientific data and adverse event reports have clearly revealed, compounds in kratom make it so it isn’t just a plant—it’s an opioid.”

This dangerous drug is not kept in pharmacies or dispensed by doctors – it is sold freely without an age restriction at convenience stores and gas stations throughout 66 of Florida’s 67 counties (with Sarasota County being the lone exception). In fact, one gas station within walking distance of Olive Baptist Church currently promotes the sale of kratom on a street sign on Davis Highway.

A sign promoting kratom can be seen at a gas station within walking distance of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, FL.

Kratom is an addictive substance, and has been banned or strictly regulated in Malaysia, Thailand, Australia and several countries of the European Union. Today, kratom remains legal under US Federal Law, but several states – including our neighbor, Alabama – have labeled it a scheduled substance.

While critics of listing kratom as a controlled substance cite its potential as an alternative to opioids, with useful medicinal properties, the FDA Commissioner Dr. Gottlieb insists that those uses “must be backed by sound science and weighed appropriately against the potential for abuse,” and be evaluated by both the DEA and the FDA.

In addition to his work alongside the other members of this local coalition, A.J. is meeting with Mary Wilson in Escambia County and Faye Henry in Santa Rosa County, the coordinators of RSVP– the Retired Senior Volunteer Program. On August 29, A.J. gave a presentation at the request of Alesia Y.W. Ross, Senior Volunteer Programs Director, to about 50 Senior Companion and RELIEF volunteers, a part of the Council On Aging of West Florida. Together with RSVP, A.J. is planning special events to bring further education on opioid dangers to the senior citizens in our community.

Watch for future updates on A.J.’s work as the Opioid Task Force Specialist by following the Ministry Village at Olive Facebook page.

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