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.
Kratom, which has been consumed in Southeast Asia for centuries, binds to the same opioid receptor as morphine - so it can treat pain. But it's now taken as a recreational drug, with its users saying it treats anxiety, depression and opioid withdrawal.
Some people think kratom is safe because it comes from a plant - it's a relative of coffee - but many poisons come from plants, including opioids, cyanide and ricin.
"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". "Calls to US poison control centers regarding kratom have increased 10-fold from 2010 to 2015, with hundreds of calls made each year", said FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb in a statement.
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FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb released a statement on Tuesday warning people to stay away from the herb. Anita Gupta, an osteopathic anesthesiologist and licensed pharmacist, has expressed concern about an increase in the use of kratom among her chronic pain patients.
Gottlieb also acknowledged that if proponents are right, and kratom could be used alternatively as a tool to treat opioid addiction, the agency owes them clear, reliable evidence to support those benefits.
In August 2016, the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) drew the ire of thousands when it announced plans to add kratom to its list of schedule I drugs.
Aside from being marketed online and in largely unregulated supplements as a concentration booster and workout enhancer, kratom is being advertised as a replacement for opioid painkillers.
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The FDA said it is working to prevent shipments of kratom in the United States and has detained hundreds of these packages at worldwide mail facilities.
Since then, there have been reports of 36 deaths linked with the use of products containing kratom; it can cause serious side effects including seizures and liver damage, and can even trigger symptoms of withdrawal when use is stopped, according to the FDA.
But it may be laced with other substances, such as opioids like hydrocodone, the FDA says. "Kratom is also banned in several states, specifically Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Tennessee, and Wisconsin and several others have pending legislation to ban it", Gottlieb stated. Hundreds of shipments have been detained and product has been seized and destroyed.
For now, the FDA said it is working to prevent shipments of kratom from entering the country.
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