The Food and Drug Administration issued a public health advisory Tuesday about the use of kratom, a herbal supplement known to ease the side effects of opioid withdrawals that’s linked to 36 deaths.
The FDA’s cautioning comes after the Drug Enforcement Administration’s delay in listing kratom, a plant found in countries like Thailand and Malaysia, as a controlled substance. The supplement is sold in smoke shops and as a powder for brewing tea to ease drug withdrawal symptoms but, according to the FDA, it has addictive characteristics of its own.
“Evidence shows that kratom has similar effects to narcotics like opioids,” the FDA statement reads, “and carries similar risks of abuse, addiction and in some cases, death.”
Kratom, like opioids, is believed to relieve pain. It also has healing properties with other ailments like fatigue, cough and diarrhea.
The herb gives its users a euphoric feeling when used recreationally, but it’s also proven to be just as addictive and, in some cases, as deadly as opioids.
“You never know the real strength, ingredients, or how it’s (kratom) prepared,” recovered pain pill addict Chris Barth told USA Today. “Limited access and or lack of knowledge of approved treatments is what’s probably driving this. It’s probably easier to ‘do it yourself’ with kratom ordered over the internet than find — if it’s available — and pay for FDA approved, doctor supervised treatment.”
Faces of opioid addiction in the Bronx
The FDA’s chief, Scott Gottlieb, asked Congress for more power and expanded resources to combat the opioid epidemic on Tuesday. That includes a stronger presence at ports of entry and working alongside Customs and Border Patrol.
“If they find people here who are opening the gates to these drugs, there may be opportunities for the FDA to investigate at a high level,” former principal deputy FDA commissioner under the Obama administration, Joshua Sharfstein, told the news site.
More than 340 million shipments of kratom reach the U.S. each year, even though the FDA has seized hundreds more.
“Given that massive volume,” Gottlieb said, “it’s estimated that only a small percentage of the illicit drugs smuggled through the international mail are being intercepted.”