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Seen At 11: Kratom -- As Addictive As Heroin And Perfectly Legal

NEW YORK (CBS 2) -- A drug known as kratom produces a high like cocaine, and can be as addictive as heroin – but is completely legal.

As CBS 2's Kristine Johnson reported, parents are under a dire warning as the drug begins hitting the Tri-State Area.

People are talking about kratom all across the country.

"This will get you where you need to be and make you feel good," one proponent said.

"It can give you a happy, euphoric feeling," another said.

"I feel like I have a little buzz," a third said.

The drug is not only legal, but cheap and easily accessible. It comes from a tree in Southeast Asia once touted for having medicinal properties.

"It's a branch of the coffee family and years and years ago, the villagers would manipulate the leaves and it gave off an effect that relaxed people," said John Corbett, clinical care coordinator at the Maryhaven Steps to Life program in Riverhead, Long Island.

Kratom is sought after for its euphoric and more intense effects, and is considered one of the most dangerous drugs currently for sale in the United States.

"People are ending up in emergency rooms, hospitals, rehab," Corbett said.

Kratom is ground into powder, stuffed in capsules, and even sold in liquid form. It is so highly addictive John Corbett, a drug and alcohol counselor, likens it to opium and heroin. He said it has withdrawal symptoms that are just as bad.

"Nausea, sweating, tremors, heart palpitations -- doctors are Googling, they're actually googling what is this, where is this coming from," Corbett said.

Kratom is popping up for sale everywhere in the Tri-State Area, from smoke shops and convenient stores to the Internet.

"Because it's legal, I didn't think there was anything wrong with it," one man said.

But the man who made that remark said he knows firsthand just how difficult Kratom is to quit.

"You go without it for two days and you feel like death," he said.

So why is it legal, when Australia, Malaysia, and Thailand have all banned its use? The Drug Enforcement Agency recently placed Kratom on its list of "Drugs and Chemicals of Concern," a watch list of substances that government chemists are studying.

"You could get into an automobile high on kratom, drive down the road and crash and kill someone," said Massachusetts state Lawmaker Vinny deMacedo (R-Plymouth.)

With help, the man who spoke to CBS 2 did eventually break the habit. But he had a warning for those who think kratom is safe because it is legal.

"It's not worth going down that route," he said.

Although there have been no reported fatalities from kratom, the known risks and dangers of overdoses include delusions, tremors, coordination problems, and hallucinations.

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