Kratom debate: FDA issues public health advisory on risks, reports 36 deaths

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a public health advisory on the risks associated with the use of kratom. PHOTO: MGN

NASHVILLE, Tenn.--The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a public health advisory on the risks associated with the use of kratom.

Already a subject of national debate, the plant has even been touted as a possible alternative to opioids.

However, the FDA says while kratom does grow naturally in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea, it can be deadly. The FDA says there have been 36 deaths associated with "the use of kratom-containing products."

The FDA reports kratom has been found laced with other opioids and could cause seizures, liver damage, and withdrawal symptoms.

ALSO SEE: Police: Man accused of trying to sell 5 pounds of Kratom, which is illegal in TN

The FDA adds from 2010-2015, calls to U.S. poison control centers have "increased 10-fold" and there is "no reliable evidence to support the use of kratom as a treatment for opioid use disorder."

The concern is kratom could actually expand the current opioid epidemic rather than help.

But statements by FDA seem to leave room for advancement of the use of kratom, stating "if proponents are right and kratom can be used to help treat opioid addiction, patients deserve to have clear, reliable evidence of these benefits."

One issue is that so far, no marketer has attempted to properly develop a drug containing kratom. With a lack of science-based testing to back up claims by supporters, the FDA is working to block or seize kratom coming in from overseas and is working with the DEA.

Kratom is already banned in Tennessee and several other states and is considered a controlled substance in 16 countries according to the FDA.

In part, supporters of kratom can point to the opioid epidemic for the scrutiny of kratom. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb writes the following:

"We’ve learned a tragic lesson from the opioid crisis: that we must pay early attention to the potential for new products to cause addiction and we must take strong, decisive measures to intervene. From the outset, the FDA must use its authority to protect the public from addictive substances like kratom, both as part of our commitment to stemming the opioid epidemic and preventing another from taking hold."

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