In the ongoing search for changing the way that people feel, there is a trend all too alarming to Burning Tree Transitions Services (BTTS) staff concerning people in early recovery, more specifically, young people in early recovery. It may start out by drinking a few more cans of energy drinks, and when that doesn’t work some search for ways to give them the high they crave, yet staying under the supervised radar of drug tests. In recent months, BTTS has seen some in and out of the Burning Tree Transitions Program turn to Kratom. A decision that has turned fatal for one former client. While Kratom is not a synthetic drug (K2, Spice, Bath Salts, etc.) it is entirely legal to possess and use in the US, for now. It was recently added to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s list of “drugs and chemicals of concern.”
Kratom is another name for the leaves of the mitragyna speciosa tree. While the tree is indigenous to Southeast Asia and the leaves have been used for medicinal purposes in that region for centuries we are seeing an increase in use for recreational purposes in the US. The leaves are dried and powdered and can typically be ingested in the form of tablets, capsules, powder or liquid.
While Kratom overdoses are rare, it is the trend of abusing Kratom then turning back to the drugs of choice that led the individuals to seek treatment in the first place. “Our program has seen a rise in the use of synthetic drugs such as bath salts, the biggest problem right now is the use of Kratom,” says Burning Tree’s Director of Transitions Services Dawn Wilson. “We are seeing people starting to use Kratom recreationally, thinking that it will give them a cheap high and still not get them in trouble if they get selected for a random drug test. It’s not taking long before they are getting questioned by peers for looking high or out of it.” Wilson says that rarely are individuals able to use Kratom “once or twice” a week and go on with their lives. “Kratom sets off a response in them that sets the wheels of relapsing on drugs and alcohol (that got them into treatment) in motion. While using synthetic drugs or Kratom is a relapse in our program, and they’ll be asked to leave our program or go back to inpatient treatment, I have not seen or heard someone that could just continue using Kratom and not relapse on heroin, cocaine, alcohol, meth, etc. It just does not happen.”
Burning Tree Programs is a long term drug and alcohol treatment facility in Texas that deals with chronic relapse. Clients stay at Burning Tree for 8-12 months of inpatient treatment, then once discharged from inpatient treatment they transition into BTTS which Wilson oversees. “Our Transitions Program lasts a year after they discharge from inpatient treatment, the first six months staying at one of our halfway houses that we manage and supervise. Clients will come in once a week for a weekly meeting where everyone in our program is expected to attend, and this meeting is also open to alumni of Burning Tree. Clients are expected to also attend certain number of meetings a week, find a job, carry the message, work with a sponsor, have frequent 1-1 appointments with myself or one of the Transition Specialists, and live according the principles learned and lived while at Burning Tree. Everyone in the program also submits to random drug tests, and must agree when asked or face being kicked out of the program.”
On a bookshelf in the BTTS office in Dallas, Texas lays a folded up Pittsburg Steelers jersey. It is not uncommon for staff members to stop for a prolonged look, or stop and put their hand on the jersey for a second or so. It is a reminder to staff and clients how deadly this disease is. A few months back a recently kicked out client from the Transitions Program died of an apparent drug overdose. The client was asked to leave the program to continued unaccepted behaviors, and was dead a few weeks later. “Reports we got from people around the client a few days before his death, say that the client started using Kratom, and turned to other drugs quickly afterwards,” says Wilson quietly. “Unfortunately this disease doesn’t care about death cause are seeing people still using Kratom and other drugs that are not showing up on our drug kits. We are certainly improving our testing policies. It is my job to continue working with the families and the clients, educating them on the dangers of relapsing on anything legal or illegal. The worst part of my job is calling the family after a relapse or death. I don’t wish that on anyone.”
Burning Tree Programs has two inpatient long term facility locations. Clients start out at Burning Tree Lodge in Elgin, Texas, then transition to Burning Tree Ranch in Kaufman, Texas, and finally discharging to Burning Tree Transitions Services (BTTS) in Dallas, Texas. For information on any part of the Burning Tree Programs visit burningtree.com or call 866-287-2877 to speak with a Burning Tree Specialist.