Federal regulators may have finally found a way to curtail use of the herbal supplement kratom. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently listed it as an opioid, a highly addictive type of painkiller. Those who use kratom, however, say it offers benefits, such as easing the withdrawal symptoms of prescription and illegal opioids, like heroin.
Kratom is a botanical substance that grows naturally in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Papau New Guinea. The product has been used as a painkiller or mood enhancer in foreign countries. It has also been sold as an herbal supplement in the U.S., though it is now illegal in some states. The herb has become popularized because it delivers opioid-like effects.
Last fall, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced plans to classify kratom as a Schedule I drug, warning that the herb had been linked to at least 15 deaths from 2014 to 2016. Classifying kratom would have put it in the same category as heroin and LSD.
But the DEA’s announcement was followed by heavy push-back from people who argued that kratom was a safer alternative to opioids for chronic pain, and could ease withdrawal symptoms for those with opioid or alcohol addiction. Last October, the DEA withdrew its notice to classify kratom as a Schedule I drug.
Last week, the FDA put its muscle behind the effort to control kratom by listing the herb as an opioid. The agency said that the supplement was killing people. In November 2017, the FDA said it had received 36 reports of death linked to kratom use. Since then, the number has jumped to 44. Based on its extensive research, the agency announced kratom was an opioid, and would be tackled with the same fervor as similar painkillers in an effort to curb the nation’s growing opioid epidemic.
“Taken in total, the scientific evidence we’ve evaluated about kratom provides a clear picture of the biologic effect of this substance. Kratom should not be used to treat medical conditions, nor should it be used as an alternative to prescription opioids,” the agency stated in its news release. “There is no evidence to indicate that kratom is safe or effective for any medical use. And claiming that kratom is benign because it’s ‘just a plant’ is shortsighted and dangerous.”