Increasingly popular herbal drug tied to over 90 fatal overdoses, Kratom

Increasingly popular herbal drug tied to over 90 fatal overdoses, Kratom

April 13, 2019– Mary Greeley News – The over-the-counter herbal drug kratom has been linked to an increasing number of overdose deaths, federal health officials said this week.

Mitragyna speciosa (commonly known as kratom) is a tropical evergreen tree in the coffee family native to Southeast Asia. M. speciosa is indigenous to Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Papua New Guinea, where it has been used in traditional medicines since at least the nineteenth century. Kratom has opioid properties and some stimulant-like effects.

Kratom was a cause of death in at least 91 fatal overdoses in the United States from July 2016 to December 2017, and 152 tested positive for the substance in a postmortem toxicology during that time period, health officials found.

Only 44 deaths nationally were previously known, according to Associated Press.

A February study also found that poisonings reported from taking kratom soared more than 50-fold from 13 in 2011 to 682 in 2017 by tracking phone calls about kratom exposures to poison control centers.

While in many of the fatal overdoses, other drugs, like fentanyl or cocaine, were also listed as a cause of death, federal regulators have warned against kratom’s use.

What is kratom?

Kratom is a plant grown naturally in Southeast Asian countries including Thailand and Malaysia, where it’s been widely used for centuries. It’s sold as a powder, typically in capsules, that can be used in tea to ease opioid withdrawals as well as fatigue, pain, coughing and diarrhea.

In the United States, the herbal supplement is typically purchased at smoke shops, gas stations or online.

And its use is increasing in popularity, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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But kratom has garnered scrutiny by the Food and Drug Administration, which has said that, like opioids, it carries similar risks of abuse, addiction and in some cases, deaths.

Supporters of kratom, led by the American Kratom Association, have disputed the substance’s danger, citing past reports suggesting it has low toxicity and has a milder withdrawal than opiates. They compare the addiction characteristics of kratom to caffeine in coffee.

“Follow the science. Kratom itself is safe,” Charles Haddow, the group’s senior fellow of public policy, has said.

Why is kratom in the news?

Kratom made headlines this week after the CDC report on rising overdose deaths tied to the herbal supplement.

In seven of the 91 overdoses in which kratom was a cause of death, the herbal supplement was the only substance to test positive in a toxicology report, though the CDC says other substances couldn’t be ruled out.

Looking at numbers from state reporting databases, the CDC found 27,338 overdose deaths in the time period, meaning kratom-tied overdoses accounted for less than 1% of fatal overdoses.

What are the possible effects?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, kratom interacts with opioid receptors in the brain to ease pain and produce sedation and pleasure.

Common minor side effects include nausea, vomiting, and constipation. More severe side effects may include respiratory depression (decreased breathing), seizure, addiction, and psychosis. Other side effects may include high heart rate and blood pressure, trouble sleeping, and, rarely, liver toxicity.

Is kratom regulated?

Kratom is currently not scheduled as a controlled substance in the United States.

The Drug Enforcement Administration previously proposed to list it as a Schedule 1 drug, which would ban the substance and put it in the same classification as heroin and LSD but withdrew the move after backlash.

The Department of Health and Human Services has also previously recommended that kratom be listed as a Schedule 1 drug.

Several states have considered kratom regulations on the state level.

For now, the FDA has not approved kratom for any medical use and the DEA has listed it as a “Drug and Chemical of Concern.”

Mary Greeley News

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