An herbal supplement used to ease the symptoms of depression, anxiety and chronic pain is killing people in Georgia, warned Dr. Jonathan Eisenstat, the state’s Bureau of Investigation chief state medical examiner. In 2016, the supplement, called kratom, was linked to five deaths in Georgia. So far in 2017, it has killed 11 in the state. Nationally, kratom has been linked to the deaths of at least 36 people.
Kratom is a plant indigenous to Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. It has grown in popularity in the U.S., and is often marketed as a “safe” treatment for a variety of conditions. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it knows people are using kratom to treat conditions like pain, anxiety and depression.
The growing number of kratom deaths in Georiga has put the state’s officials on alert. “In November 2016, we added (kratom) to our list of possible drugs in our toxicology screens,” Eisenstat told KIRO News. Which means that some previous kratom-related deaths went unreported.
Kratom is available at retail stores and online in a variety of forms. But because it has been linked to serious health problems and death, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) attempted to schedule the drug to make it more difficult to obtain. Those attempted were thwarted by public outcry. Among the arguments to keep the supplement on the market was that kratom can cause feelings of euphoria and is often used to quell symptoms of opioid dependence.
Kratom has become such a problem nationally that in November the FDA issued a Public Health Advisory calling on those who believe in the potential medical benefits of kratom to conduct research so that its risks and benefits can be better understood.
“It’s very troubling to the FDA that patients believe they can use kratom to treat opioid withdrawal symptoms,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., said in a statement. “There is no reliable evidence to support the use of kratom as a treatment for opioid use disorder.”