Corner grocer dependency: cultural barriers blind Australia to opioid addiction

Multani Kamini Vidrawan Ra (Kamini for short), is an opioid substance derived from the opium poppy Papaver somniferum. While kamini is classified as an illegal import by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) in Australia, it can still be purchased under the counter from some grocery stores – for as much as $180 per bottle, or $7 for an individual 250 milligram ball.

The COVID-19 pandemic prompted shortages of the supply of Kamini to Australia, which has led to multiple patients suffering from withdrawal symptoms to seek medical help.

Now, Australian health experts have released a report published in Drug and Alcohol Review. While the report is based on a limited study (of 12 patients) in Queensland, the researchers hope it will help educate communities, health experts and officials on the risks of this illicit substance.

Patients withdrawing from kamini have symptoms including insomnia, pain in their limbs, feeling hot and cold, poor sleep, agitation, and cravings. While kamini is traditionally considered to enhance sexual function – it’s analogous to Viagra – most patients took it in the hope it would give them energy to work longer hours, or to help relieve pain or stress.

“There is a misconception that it is an aphrodisiac, in reality it is likely to have the opposite effect,” says Dr Jeremy Hayllar, clinical director of Metro North Hospital Alcohol and Drug Service, in Queensland. “It would seem that people are unaware of the addiction dangers of kamini and were shocked by their withdrawal symptoms like sweats, diarrhoea, runny nose, poor sleep.”

Patients reviewed were taking 2–30 kamini balls per day. Each handmade tablet weighs 0.2–0.4 grams, and contains up to 10% opium. A high intake could easily lead to an overdose. As well as containing codeine, morphine and papaverine associated with opium, kamini also can contain the heavy metal mercury, which can be toxic. Kamini addiction is likely widespread across Australia, with cases also reported in Perth and Sydney.

The 12 Queensland patients have been treated for their addiction; this has included taking buprenorphine, an opioid which is used to replace more dangerous addictive substances.

Information resulting from the study and Drug and Alcohol Review report highlights the prevalence and potential harm of kamini in Australia – and also that there are effective treatment options available for those needing help.

Kamini, drugs, opium, addiction, health
Kamini tablets. Credit: Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) Australia

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