Addiction in a bottle; liquid Kratom available at gas stations in Birmingham

Local News

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — UPDATE: VivaZen sent a written statement in response to our story from Monday night. The full statement reads:Kratom is a natural botanical, related to the coffee family, that is native to Southeast Asia. It’s been used there for hundreds of years—providing energy and minor muscle relief. Taking natural Kratom, particularly VivaZen, is a natural alternative for millions of consumers.It’s clear Mr. Bufford is concerned for the people his organization works with and that’s commendable. However, Mr. Bufford’s comments about VivaZen are inaccurate and unscientific; misinformed at best.Kratom is not a drug, it’s a plant and VivaZen is non-habit forming if used as directed. Abuse of any substance that affects opioid receptors, like caffeine for instance, can lead to psychological dependency.VivaZen helps thousands of people, many in Alabama, find natural minor muscle relief. Our customers are nurses, veterans, lawyers, paramedics, police officers, construction workers—they’re your neighbors.

ORIGINAL: It’s a drug that’s illegal in four states, but you can buy it at gas stations in the greater Birmingham area right now. It’s an energy shot containing something called Kratom.

It has the same effect as prescription pain killers, but is marketed as an herbal supplement and sold without government approval. The drink, called Viva Zen, is sold next to other energy drink shots, like 5 Hour Energy. Viva Zen contains a drug that can cause the same effect on your body as hydrocodone.

Local organizations dealing with those coming out of addiction said abuse of this energy shot is on the rise.

“Viva Zen is terrible,” said Graham Bufford, director of Changed Lives Christian Center. Bufford said Viva Zen is being used by those who are trying to break a drug addiction to stay high. An ingredient in the drink, Kratom, is supposed to be used relieve minor muscle pain from working out.

“People will unfortunately try and use that and stay under the radar as opposed to staying completely clean, but we can test for it,” said Bufford. Viva Zen’s website said the drink is a popular herbal dietary supplement. They recommend you only take half of the two ounce shot first, because the reaction can be quite strong. The bottle also tells users not to take Viva Zen and drive.

“One drink, depending on the dosage, could be one to two lortabs, and it’s very addictive,” said Bufford. He said the withdrawals are very similar to coming off opiates.

A gas station near UAB’s campus was selling two of the shots for $10 on Monday. Bufford said the price and availability is why many addicts are abusing it.

“It’s very insidious,” Bufford said. “It’s a drug and it does have the same effects as a narcotic would. It can be very habit forming, very fast.”

WIAT reached out to the maker of Viva Zen for their response to these issues. As of 10 p.m. Monday, we haven’t had heard back yet.

Copyright 2015 WIAT 42 News

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