(WAFB) - The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking aim again at kratom, a plant native to southeast Asia. It's taken as a pill, a powder, or as a tea, and it's completely legal in most states.
Users passionately argue it's a safe alternative to opioids and non-addictive. Many even say it's a tool that can be used to treat addiction. However, FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb has declared kratom is indeed an opioid.
"Scientific data and adverse event reports have clearly revealed compounds in kratom make it so it isn't just a plant, it's an opioid," said Gottlieb. "It's an opioid that's associated with novel risks because of the variability in how it's being formulated, sold, and used recreationally and by those who are seeking to self-medicate for pain or who use kratom to treat opioid withdrawal symptoms."
The FDA says there are hundreds of kratom-related calls to poison control each year, increasing ten-fold from 2010 to 2015. In November, the FDA issued an advisory, offering strong words of caution to kratom users, calling the drug addictive and deadly. At that time, the FDA noted 36 kratom-related deaths nationwide. Now, the FDA says the number of deaths has gone up to 44. Among those cases, Gottlieb says is evidence showing kratom can trigger seizures and respiratory distress especially when combined with other substances.
Gottlieb says claims that kratom is harmless because it's a plant are misguided, pointing out in a release that heroin also comes from a plant. "Kratom should not be used to treat medical conditions, nor should it be used as an alternative to prescription opioids. There is no evidence to indicate that kratom is safe or effective for any medical use," said Gottlieb.
However, the American Kratom Association (AKA), a vocal advocate for the drug, calls the FDA's assessment "utterly and completely wrong," comparing it to a trick play to pressure the DEA into banning the substance.
"The American public deserves better from the FDA than what they have given us in their analysis on kratom," said AKA board chairman, Dave Herman.
To read the FDA's full analysis, click here.