Debate Grows Over All-Natural Alternative to Opioids
By Matt Kensek, Mark Cuminale, Ricky Wolf, and Chris Suarez
Canalside Chronicles Staff
With a growing opioid epidemic in the Rochester area, some local businesses are finding new ways to market alternatives to consumers. The Kratom Shop, located on Main Street in the village of Brockport, is advocating the benefits of their product, kratom, amid concerns related to the substance.
Jackie Chianfoni helps run the shop owned by her husband Daniel and business-partner Robbie Brockler.
“We have a secondary shop on Monroe Ave in Rochester,” Chianfoni explains. “This one has been here since August and [the Monroe Ave location] has been open since November of last year.”
Kratom is a naturally growing plant that originates in East Asian countries like Thailand and Indonesia, and this “natural” concept seems to play into the marketing of the substance.
“Everything is chemically tested here,” Chianfoni says. “We spend extra money to get all of our product tested to prove that it’s completely natural – just the leaf with nothing done to it.”
Both Chianfoni and her husband have dealt with medical problems in the past, and cite that kratom has helped them both.
“It’s amazing what it can do,” the 29-year-old says. “I’ve experienced a lot of anxiety and depression in my life – my husband was very ill, had a heart transplant and had cancer. [Kratom] can help with anxiety, depression, and some pain relief. The mental clarity and focus that you get helps you feel like a normal person again.”
While kratom is a fairly new substance, the U.S Food and Drug Administration has actively voiced its disapproval of the substance. The agency continues to express concern over kratom usage, stating that there is not enough research available right now to link the substance with its claimed effects.
College at Brockport lecturer Kerrie Gianvecchio, who works in the Alcohol and Substance Abuse program, also has concerns.
“The whole idea of something being a plant is misleading,” she says. “All substances used or get addicted start as a plant in some way.”
For Gianvecchio, there is a fear that the marketing of kratom could play into the opioid crisis.
“There is value in researching this substance, but I think the marketing of it is dangerous,” she explains. “I think the way that it is being delivered is playing into the opioid crisis.”
With a debate simmering over kratom and its influence, Chianfoni sees their business bringing a positive impact to the customers they serve through the Brockport shop.
“There was one gentleman who had to stop three times as he was trying to walk in the door because he was so hunched over and in crippling pain,” Chianfoni says. “He got some of the kratom and the next week my husband didn’t even know it was the same person. He walked in with his head held high and said that it changed his life. He couldn’t believe the change that kratom could do.”
Discussion of the benefits of kratom leads into blurred territory. The FDA has warned companies about making unsubstantiated medical claims toward the substance’s effects. Despite this, Chianfoni believes kratom is helping to reduce drug problems in Rochester.
“It has been widely seen with people who suffer from addiction that [kratom] stops withdrawal symptoms immediately,” she says. “In the last year the overdose rate in Rochester has gone down more than in the two years prior, and I like to think we had a lot to do with that.”
With the Brockport location being fairly new, Chianfoni says reaction within the community has been positive.
“I haven’t had one negative reaction,” she says. “Everyone who comes in is excited that someone locally is selling it.”
Local area resident Brendan Lake is an active user of kratom, and mainly uses the substance for energy.
“I usually get the white strain because it’s more stimulating [for energy],” he says. “The stimulation is good because I feel like I’m a low energy person so it’s nice to have a substitute for coffee sometimes.”
Lake has been using kratom once a day for about 2 years, but doesn’t think he’s developed a level of addiction with the substance.
“There’s definitely a bit if dependency – I really like it so if I have it I’m going to take it,” he says. “But, I’ve gone weeks where I don’t take it and don’t have any physical withdrawals. Maybe I’ll have trouble sleeping if I don’t take it but nothing crazy.”
Although the Kratom Shop sees progress with its customers, the FDA appears to be the main opponent in the kratom debate. With disproval growing from the agency, and efforts being made to crack down on unsubstantiated medical claims, kratom vendors could be in jeopardy.