Kratom linked to deaths

To the Editor,

The opioid epidemic is real and is at its worst in our own Tri-State Area backyard. It is worrisome that there is a product — not under FDA regulation — that claims to have substantial benefits and nevertheless demonstrates substantial risks. This is a plant commonly found in Southeast Asia called Mitragyna speciosa, better known as kratom. Kratom is also known as Thang, Kakuam, Thom, Ketum and Biak.

Kratom’s presence in the United States has been on the rise during the last few years. On Nov. 14, the FDA released a statement warning about kratom and linked its use to 36 deaths. According to the FDA, people are using kratom to self-treat conditions such as pain, anxiety, depression and even opioid withdrawal. In our Tri-State Area, consumers are most likely using it to help with opioid or heroin withdrawal. Those defending kratom claim it is safe because it is a plant-based product. However, we know the botanical substance has effects that are actually similar to opioids. Kratom also carries risk, including addiction and death, just like its opioid counterparts. The risk of abuse is also present with kratom, again as in opioids.

Currently there is no reliable evidence or instruction for the use of kratom in opioid withdrawal. Kratom is currently banned in numerous countries, including Sweden, Australia and Germany. It is also banned in several states, although West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio have yet to ban the product. Currently, the FDA has no approved uses for kratom or any kratom-containing products. The FDA does voice safety concerns with kratom use, such as the increase in calls to poison control centers, kratom being laced with other drugs, seizures, liver damage and withdrawal symptoms. The most unsettling aspect about kratom is that it is easily accessible in our neighborhoods with locally owned businesses selling it. It can be found in headshops and smoke shops, and is as easy to buy as tobacco.

Kratom is available in a variety of forms, including liquids, capsules and powder. Because it is bitter, kratom has been mixed with flavorings to make it more desirable. This dangerous substance does not have to be sold on the streets — it is sold in stores despite its FDA advisory warning.

It is important to know that access to medicated assisted treatment for opioid addiction is important, but the choice of kratom for this purpose or any other purpose is not wise. Don’t hesitate to share this information with anyone who may benefit.

Ethan Levendorf


(Editor’s note: Levendorf is a pharmacy student at WVU.)