SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Millions of Americans have reportedly tried a supplement called kratom to treat a number of problems from chronic pain to opioid withdrawal.
But the Food and Drug Administration is now calling Kratom itself an opioid and warn it can be addictive and dangerous. In a partnership with Consumer Reports, ABC 7 News Anchor, Kristen Sze, looks at why government agencies are urging Americans to steer clear of this controversial herb.
For many years, the leaves of the Kratom tree have been used in Southeast Asia to treat aches and pains. Here in the United States, it can be purchased in the form of a powder, pill, or tea -- and it doesn't require a prescription.
According to the American Kratom Association, there are three to five million people who have used it in the U.S. Alone. "The research that's been done indicates that people are using kratom to help alleviate chronic pain to treat mood disorders like anxiety and depression and in some cases to help wean themselves off of opioids," said Jeneen Interlandi, Consumer Reports Health Editor.
But the U.S. Food & Drug Administration says kratom is not just a plant -- it's an opioid. And they warn it can be dangerous, even fatal -- associating it with more than three dozen deaths. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control says it may be tied to a recent salmonella outbreak and at this point, they are recommending people not consume kratom in any form.
Consumer Reports also has concerns, because like any supplement, Kratom is not regulated. "Any given Kratom product can be grossly mislabeled," said Interlandi. "It can be laced with other substances including illegal drugs and prescription medications and it can interact with other medications that you are taking in ways that are really dangerous."
The Drug Enforcement Agency has listed Kratom as a "drug and chemical of concern" and at one point, wanted to put it in the same category as heroin, LSD, and ecstasy -- essentially banning it for consumers.
But the American Kratom Association argues that making the substance illegal could drive more people to prescription pain killers or illegal drugs to treat their symptoms. The organization says they will support appropriate FDA regulations to ensure the safety and purity of Kratom, but not a ban. The DEA is currently reviewing data and public comments.
"But it could be a few months to a few years before they render a decision. In the meantime, Consumer Reports really feels that given the lack of regulation, it's better for consumers to just avoid this product altogether," said Interlandi.
If you are in pain, but looking to avoid prescription painkillers, Consumer Reports says there are a number of options you can consider, including over the counter drugs and alternative therapies like acupuncture. Talk to your doctor about which ones make the most sense for you.
Written and produced by Justin Mendoza
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Consumer Reports: The dangers of kratom supplements
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