Nick Clark’s military career didn’t end well, but he says he’s earned a “Junkie Badge of Honor” for dancing at a New Orleans strip club for men to earn money to buy drugs. Nick was addicted to opiates and homeless by the age of 17. His father was a crack addict, and his girlfriend (now wife) shared his opiate addiction. Later he joined the Army National Guard and became a medic so he could have easy access to pain killers, and ended up being arrested for going AWOL. Nick and his wife were struck with another terrible blow when his 4 year old son was diagnosed with Leukemia. After going through rehab and discovering kratom, Nick and his wife have been sober for three years. Though he admits to consuming “a lot” of kratom, Nick now has a stable job and supports his three children. He is also the funniest person I’ve ever interviewed.
Kratom Science: So your story is pretty interesting. You were in the Army National Guard. Is that when you started to get hooked on painkillers?
Nick Clark: I used to just smoke weed and drink like every normal American teenager. Then I started dating my girlfriend, now my wife, and her grandmother was actually involved in the original Oxycontin lawsuit. At the time we started dating, my wife had already been taking Demerol. She had been getting Demerol from her grandmother. My wife’s first words to me in high school were, “Hey do you like pills?” And I was like, well, I want you to think I’m cool, so “Hell yeah girl! I love pills! ‘Cause I’m cool!” It was a flourishing relationship ever since. My wife, she’s been an addict since she was 16, she just didn’t know it. None of us knew that these little pills were gonna do that. So whenever I went and enlisted in the Army National Guard… it’s so twisted… I did my ASVAB, my vocational training, my aptitude test. They told me the jobs I qualified for, and one of them was medic. And I was like, “What’s that?” They broke down [the job of] a medic for me, and at the end he was like, “You’re also the guy who has the painkillers.” Like the Fentanyl suckers and stuff. And I was like, I want that!
KS: I’m on that one!
Right. I was like, Come on bro! I’ll be in the desert with a locker full of Fentanyl? I’m gravy!
NC: That was the whole reason I chose to be a medic. Not because I wanted to save lives. I was like, Cool, that’s the one that has dope. I’m down.
So whenever I went to go to test, my recruiter showed up and said, “Hey! We’re gonna go today. Are you ready?” And I was like “Um, one second.” I had an old dentist bottle for like eight Lortabs, and I had a half of one left in it, and that was gonna be my excuse why I couldn’t pass a drug test. It’s a valid bottle. It’s like six months old. They can’t say that I’m lying. And he was like, “No dude, you can’t do that.” I waited four days before I could pass a drug test. I drank a bunch of water, flooded my system. I was able to pass, but whenever I was on the plane to go to boot camp, I took my last two Lortabs, got to boot camp, found out you could get percocets through the dental place. So I went to the dental, had them pull my wisdom teeth, got percocets, then was trading people my MREs for any percocets they had. So I was on percocets the entire time I was in boot camp. Then I got to my medical school and found out you could get Adderall. So I told them that I couldn’t focus for nothing and got Adderall, and was taking Adderall and trading my Adderall for other people’s percocets in AIT. So if there was a will, there was a way. I was gonna get it.
KS: I wonder if that now, given the opioid crisis, they’re cracking down within the military?
NC: I doubt very seriously because I know before I enlisted, the VA was one of the biggest pushers of painkillers. You could get Xanax, opiates, and anti-psychotics for nothing. Now if you needed blood pressure medication, you might have to pass a test or something, but if you wanted Lortabs… Like half of my drug dealers, before I enlisted, were Vietnam veterans.
KS: That’s funny, because I knew a Gulf War vet who used to take these big orange horse pills. He used to shave us off a bit of one pill, and it got me high. But if the shaving was slightly too big, it made me sick.
NC: Yeah those were the original methadones. Whenever I was 17 I was working at this pizza joint. This girl was my weed dealer, and I asked her if she had any weed. And she was like, “No but I’ve got methadone.” And I was like, “Cool! I’ve heard rap songs than mention methadone. I’ll take one.” And she never mentioned, Hey you see how this has a cross cut into it? You’re supposed to break it. Nope, none of that. So I just took the whole thing and was sick as horseshit for like 48 hours. It was awful. But those big orange tablets? Those were the old methadones. Nowadays they have little white ones.
So I was on active duty status for a while, but I was still at home for at least two years of me being in. I had a set of orders for Camp Shelby in Hattisburg, Mississippi but I was always relatively at home. I was so strung out, I would go to New Orleans and strip at a gay bar there.
KS: Oh really?
NC: I am not gay. My wife would come with me. I would be wearing her pink Converse and fuckin’ strip for men. I would give her the money I was making periodically throughout the night and she would go and cop for us, and get dope.
KS: Oh man, that’s crazy.
NC: So I have my junkie badge of honor. Like, it was belligerent.
And then, after the Army had been giving me Adderall, me and my wife split up for a while. I was like, oh well, there’s no point in me being a human being anymore. I’m just gonna take as many drugs as I can find. I started doing meth with my painkillers. That was the end of reality for me, and I stopped reporting for my job, and they issued a warrant for my arrest. And that’s the only time I’ve ever been arrested was going AWOL. If you see my mugshot, it’s pathetic. I weigh like 112 pounds. My pupils are insane. I look like I’m psychotic. Whenever the officer showed up to arrest me, they knock on the door, and my mom’s wife is a cop. So I looked out my window and I was like, Yeah, those guys are cops. They weren’t in uniform. But I was like, yeah, I’m fixing to get arrested. So I took my last Suboxone, and snorted a line of meth, and they were like “Hey we’re looking for Nick Clark.” And I was like, “Yeah that’s me,” and they were like, “No it’s not!” And I was like, “No that’s me.” And they look at the picture from my military records where I’m a lot buffer and an actual person and they were like, “Dude that’s not you. Dude what the fuck are you doing?” I don’t know man. So they arrested me. I went to jail for being AWOL. At this time I had lost custody of my kids. I had three kids. My oldest one had cancer. That’s another story in itself. My son was diagnosed with cancer when he was 4. He’s 9 now, and he’s in remission. So he’s perfectly normal.
KS: That’s good he’s in remission.
NC: Whenever he was diagnosed, I was in the Guard. My drug use immediately shot up, for me and my wife. We didn’t know how to cope. We had zero coping skills because all we ever did if we got mad, if we got sad, if we got upset, if we were happy, if we needed to celebrate, it was pills pills pills.
KS: There’s always a reason.
NC: Yeah, I could always think of a good excuse to get high. So my son was diagnosed with cancer.
“I was so strung out, I would go to New Orleans and strip at a gay bar there. I am not gay. My wife would come with me. I would be wearing her pink Converse and fuckin’ strip for men. I would give her the money I was making periodically throughout the night and she would go and cop for us, and get dope. It was belligerent!”
KS: What year was this?
NC: 2014.. I had been in the National Guard for a year when that happened. So, whenever my wife left me, my drug use got incredibly worse to the point where I couldn’t function. At this whole time my wife is using too. So the kids were court-ordered to go stay with my mom and there was a whole nine months where I wasn’t allowed to see them because we were still getting high and couldn’t pass drug tests and yadda yadda.
I had previously taken kratom but I only ever took it whenever I couldn’t get pills. I had never given it a serious college effort to give it a chance. Eventually I tried to kill myself. I ended up in Memorial Behavioral Health Center.
I wrecked our van one time trying to take a picture of lightning. I was like “No, I’ve got it!” I was on the interstate. I was like “I’m gonna get it! I’m gonna get it! I’m gonna get it!” BAM! Just totaled our car.
KS: Were you high then or were you sober?
NC: I was SUPER fuckin’ high.
KS: It says on your Twitter bio you were homeless at 17. What was that all about?
NC: The exact reason, the moment I was homeless, was because, like I said, my mom’s wife is a cop. She found out. I was pretending to be in the shower. I had the shower running, but I was sitting by the door talking to my friend about some Lortabs that he had. And I was letting him know “I got 10 bucks, I’ll go ahead and pick up two from you tomorrow. Alright homie, later.” As soon as I hung up the phone, my mom’s wife just busts in the door, “Who the fuck are you getting fucking pills from?” Then I was like, “I’m not getting any pills!” and she was like, “You dirty fucking liar!” They told me to go live with my dad, and my dad is a crackhead. That’s where I get my drug problem from. Father/son bonding time…
KS: It’s genetic, they say.
NC: Exactly. Whenever I was 14 was the first time I saw crack and helped make crack. Because my dad’s hands were shaking so bad that he was like, “Here son, you hold it.” And I helped my dad make crack. I was like, Oh okay, well some kids play baseball with their dad but I guess I’ll stick with whatever the fuck I can get. So I mean, I was set up for failure, really.
So at 17 I was kicked out of my mom’s house because they didn’t want me fucking up my brother. At this time I had already been sent to alternative school twice. Once for weed, once for alcohol. If I’m buying Lortabs in the house with a cop in it, eventually they have to be like, Dude we fucking tried, you know? So they told me to go stay with my dad. I got into a fistfight with my dad, and I was bouncing around to whatever friend’s couch would have me. And then I moved into my house with my delightful wife, and she was pregnant six months later, and here I am.
“I was like, ‘I’m not getting any pills!’ and she was like, ‘You dirty fucking liar!’ They told me to go live with my dad, and my dad is a crackhead. That’s where I get my drug problem from… Father/son bonding time.”
KS: You have three kids you said?
NC: Yep. A 9 year old, a 6 year old, and a 5 year old.
KS: So you’ve been sober for a couple years now, right?
NC: I’ve been sober for three years, yeah.
KS: With kratom, I consider that sober. Just like you can take coffee and be sober. It’s not a party drug.
NC: That’s what I’ve been trying to tell everyone. My Narcotics Anonymous group tells me that I’m not sober because I take kratom. They’re like, Well are you altering your mind. I’m like, No I’m altering my mood, but not my mind.
KS: Some of these groups seem to have an interest in making kratom illegal so people will be court ordered into using their services.
Yep. My wife got sober a couple months before I did. She got custody of the kids and she gave me another chance. I had already finished rehab by then. I did a one month inpatient. The rehab that I was in started testing us for kratom. Because I was inpatient, I couldn’t get any kratom at the time. My wife had been in a halfway house, and her last week there they were like, “Oh by the way we’re going to start drug testing for kratom,” and she was like, “Fuck this I’m getting out.”
KS: So when did you first discover kratom?
NC: The first time I ever found out about kratom I think I was like 21. I was still in full-blown active addiction at the time. I would use it as a means to avoid withdrawal, and that was it. I would call every single one of my drug dealers before I went to Herbal Alternatives to pick up kratom.
KS: Is that a shop there?
NC: Yeah. Actually I moved next door to Herbal Alternatives a year ago, and I, no shit, worked there for free because they saved my life. The guy there, his name’s Alex, he seriously saved my life. I would go in there whenever I first got out of rehab, totally broke, and I would say, “Look dude, can I just clean up around the shop for some kratom?” And he’d be like, “Yeah dude the broom’s right there.” I would sweep, mop, windex, whatever, and they would give me free kratom. That’s how I was able to get on my feet. Now I’m working for a utility company. I have all of my kids back. My wife and I are together. We haven’t done drugs in three years.
KS: Have you ever had any side effects from kratom at all?
NC: No. No. I took too much one time. To be honest, I take too much, like a lot. I eat a bunch of kratom. I eat more than probably anyone I know.
KS: How much a day do you think you take?
NC: At least two ounces of powder a day.
KS: That is a lot.
NC: I buy a kilo every other week. But I split it with my wife. So I eat like a quarter pound a week. So that’s a lot when I say it like that. I mean it’s not heroin.
KS: I think a lot of what they blame on kratom is really a harder drug addiction in disguise. People are hiding illegal drugs from their spouses, from poison control center operators, from rehab clinicians. They’re telling them it’s kratom that’s causing this and that because they want to hide illegal activity. Which is why I think all drugs should be legal. So everything is out in the open.
NC: Free-flowing information. I was actually talking about Sweden today. I wanna say it’s Sweden. Where they have these safe sites. Where instead of a methadone clinic, you can come in with your drugs, your heroin or whatever, and they will provide you a little cubicle and a clean needle. You are in the presence of nurses and doctors, and you can ingest your drugs and be totally safe. No one’s gonna rob you. No one’s gonna kill you. If you overdose, there a medical staff right there. And guess what? Their crime has shot down by 90%. There’s no overdose deaths and the AIDS thing isn’t even a problem now. Meanwhile in Louisiana we can’t run a safe needle exchange program.
KS: They’re doing that in Portugal as well. They have nurses going around with buckets giving junkies clean needles and the heroin problem has plummeted over the past 10 years since they decriminalized all drugs.
NC: Right, there’s a Ted Talk guy and he talks about addiction. Addiction isn’t a drug problem. Addiction is a connection problem. He’s been on Joe Rogan a couple of times. He was talking about the study where the rats were offered cocaine water or real water and they chose cocaine every time until they died. Whenever they put rats inside of a communal cage with toys, and colorful shit, and other rats, they never chose the cocaine. When you have a communal area where people can be connected, drugs don’t really apply.
KS: What’s the political situation like in Mississippi? I’ve written about the Lowdnes County Crime and Addiction Task Force who are pushing propaganda trying to outlaw kratom in Northeast Mississippi. Do you see any of that?
NC: Months ago, our Lieutenant Governor was on Mississippi public broadcast radio saying he was gonna crack down on this “kratom problem”, because kratom is just a new “spice” that’s ruining people’s lives. You know those places you can buy it, you know those places that sell bongs and tuh-bacco pipes. You know those places. That’s the people who peddle this stuff to our kids. Well, on their websites, the Lieutenant Governor and [other office holders] have to list all of their donors. And do you know who donated $12,000 to our Lieutenant Governor? The Mississippi Board of Pharmacy! And we were like, Oh get a load of that shit! The people who peddle methadone and Suboxone don’t like kratom. Who the fuck would’ve thought?
“Now I’m working for a utility company. I have all of my kids back. My wife and I are together. We haven’t done drugs in three years.”
KS: If it wasn’t obvious enough, Scott Gottlieb just left the FDA and joined the board of Pfizer.
NC: Right. It’s literally just a revolving door – lobbyists… policy makers… lobbyists… policy makers.
Me and my wife went to go see the band Tool in Alabama. We were driving over there, and we had probably a half a kilo just sitting in the center console, and I have kratom stickers on the back of my car, and a CBD magnet on my car. I’m wearing a shirt that says “Enjoy Kratom” but it’s spelled like the “Enjoy Coca-Cola” thing. So we’re driving through Alabama and we were talking about them trying to make it illegal in Mississippi. And I Google what states is it illegal in? And it’s like BAM! Number one in alphabetical order. Alabama. And I’m like “Get the fuck out!” We’ve got a “controlled substance” in our fucking car? This is great. It sucked, dude. When we were going into the concert we had to get paranoid like we were drug addicts again, and had my wife stuff it in her bra. Hide our “shit” like it’s fuckin’ smack.
KS: Which is ridiculous.
NC: It’s crazy. You go over this imaginary borderline from one state to another and they’re like, Oh by the way you’re criminals now.
The thing is, is it helps people get off of the pills that Purdue made $3.8 billion on in 2010. They’re like, Hey wait a minute. We can’t have stuff that grows out of the ground that will compete with our product. Stop that!
KS: And it’s not even that much of their market yet. Not a lot of people even know about it.
NC: A lot of people are just misinformed. They hear what the TV and radio says about it, and they’re like, I don’t like that thing.
KS: So did you use kratom to transition gradually off of opiates or did you just stop opiates and pick up kratom later?
I did a month inpatient at a rehab center, and whenever I got out, I started taking kratom. If I didn’t do 30 days forced to detox, then I would still be using. I tried to do an outpatient rehab and that was a joke. I would literally bang up in the bathroom and come out, Hey what’s going on guys. And they were like, I think you’re still using. And I would say, That’s offensive man. And they said, I think you need to go to outpatient.
The only thing is, whenever you’re trying to switch from full-blown, taking 10 more pills a day, or shooting up, to kratom, you have to get it out of your mind that you’re going to get high because if you don’t go into it with, I’m wanna try to get sober, I’m wanna try to just take kratom, I’m not looking to drool on myself and nod out… Get that out of your mind and just understand you’re not gonna get that same high on kratom, then you can do it. But if you’re taking kratom expecting that same heroin thing, then you’re just gonna go back to heroin.
When I was withdrawing I would get full blown restless leg syndrome until it felt like my legs were gonna vibrate off of my body. I was throwing up non-stop. And I would take kratom expecting I would get a buzz and all it would do is take away my withdrawal symptoms. But that wasn’t good enough. I wanted a buzz, so I would go right back to the needle. I didn’t accept that not withdrawing was good enough. Then after I did my withdrawals in rehab, got out, and started taking kratom I was like, Hey, this is all I need.
And I just take kratom.