SPECIAL REPORT: What is Kratom, and why would you use it?
Opioid addiction is a growing problem in our nation.
It does not discriminate. It does not care whether you're rich or poor - black or white - sick or healthy.
It is an epidemic that has millions of Americans in it's clutches, and Lane County is not exempt from this problem.
There is one man in Eugene, however, that claims to have a solution.
A solution that could potentially save lives.
Kratom. It's a controversial drug that John "Rolling-Thunder" began using a year ago.
Rolling Thunder, a spiritual leader who self-identifies as a Native American medicine man, was about to become another statistic in the opioid crisis.
He was hopeless, depressed, and very close to giving up.
"I forgot how bad it was," said Rolling Thunder. "You can see how bad it was - how sick I was."
John often looks at pictures of himself from a year ago, when he was at the height of his opioid addiction.
His battle with addiction began more than 40 years ago when he contracted the HIV virus through an open wound.
Doctors gave him opioids to combat the unbearable pain, but because the disease has no cure, he became dependent on the drug.
"Just knowing you're addicted, you know, just admitting it, 'I'm addicted, but what do I do?'" said Rolling Thunder.
Last year, John says he was on his deathbed because the opioids had deteriorated his immune system to such a high degree.
Desperate for relief, he turned to a common herbal supplement called Kratom to detox from opioids. In just three weeks, he was off of both the opioids and Kratom all together.
For Rolling Thunder, it may have saved his life, but doctors say that he may have dodged a bullet.
"People have had success with it but generally, it's not recommended," said Dr. Eric Geisler, Medical Director at Serenity Lane Recovery.
Dr. Geisler is all too familiar with people using Kratom, and says that the withdrawal from the supplement can often be as dangerous as one from an opioid.
"We've seen people com in with full-blown psychosis, with hallucinations and delusions and needs to be sedated because they become so agitated a few days after taking their last dose of Kratom," said Dr. Geisel.
Kratom and opioids are very similar genetically, which is why it might be easy to curb your opioid addiction using the supplement. but Dr. Geisler says at the end of the day, you're just trading in your opioid addiction for a Kratom high.
"This is not a safe product," said Dr. Geisler.
Because of opinions like this from medical professionals, the supplement is restricted in many states and banned in several others, including Wisconsin, Indiana, Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama and Vermont.
Kratom is entirely unrestricted in Oregon, however.
"I think there needs to be some regulation as to the content, purity and purpose of the product," says Dr. Geisler. "You don't need a prescription to buy Kratom. You can buy it at places like this smoke shop right here in Lane County."
Smoke shops usually require identification, but if you buy the product online, there is no regulation.
Despite all of the concerns, Rolling Thunder wants to tell more people about his success story with the product. John says he's already advised a dozen of people across the country with curbing their opioid addiction by using Kratom.
"If I can just affect one life, which I have affected so many in the past year, then I have done my job," said Rolling Thunder.
For some people it can work, but doctors say it's a risky proposition.
And like all supplements that are not regulated by the FDA, it's buyer beware.