Report Finds ‘Rush to Judgment’ in Kratom Deaths

By Pat Anson, Editor

Medical examiners in New York and Florida made significant errors when they attributed the recent deaths of two young men to the herbal supplement kratom, according to a new analysis commissioned by the American Kratom Association, a pro-kratom consumer group.

At issue are the sudden deaths of Matthew Dana in upstate New York in August and Christopher Waldron in Hillsborough County, Florida in July. Both men were 27.

A medical examiner listed Waldron’s cause of death as “intoxication by Mitragynine,” one of the active ingredients in kratom. The coroner who performed the autopsy on Dana blamed his death on a hemorrhagic pulmonary edema (blood in the lungs) caused by high levels of kratom.

“In both of these cited cases, the conclusions reported by the coroner and medical examiner citing ‘kratom overdose’ and ‘kratom intoxication’ appear to add to the long list of mistaken, inaccurate, and now discredited reports implicating kratom,” wrote Jane Babin, PhD, a molecular biologist and lawyer.

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“These two cases, where it appears there was a rush to judgment to align with a political narrative promoted by the Drug Enforcement Administration on kratom use, undermine the credibility of the search for the actual cause of death for the benefit of the decedent’s family and the public.”

Babin said mitragynine has never been found to cause a pulmonary edema, and the medical examiner erred in not analyzing Dana’s blood for drugs such as anti-anxiety medication or anabolic steroids. Dana was a police sergeant and bodybuilder, who reportedly used steroids as part of his bodybuilding program.

Babin said the medical examiner in Florida also “rushed to judgement” in blaming Waldron’s death on kratom. Two prescription medications used to treat depression and muscle spasms, Citalopram and Cyclobenzaprine, were also found in Waldron’s blood. Labels on both drugs warn they can cause coma or death when taken together. Waldron also had ventricular hypertrophy, an enlarged liver and thyroid disease, which may have contributed to his death, according to Babin’s report.

“What I see here are very troubling indications that these deaths may have been incorrectly attributed to kratom in the face of other causes, including possible anabolic steroid use in one case and contraindicated prescription medication interactions that could kill on their own,” said Karl Ebner, PhD, a toxicologist who reviewed the report.

“These families are owed the best evidence about what happened to their loved ones, not what would appear to be some conclusions that are incompletely supported by the current evidence."

Millions of people use kratom to treat chronic pain, depression, anxiety and addiction. Last year, the DEA attempted to list kratom as a Schedule I controlled substance, which would have made it a felony to possess or sell. The DEA said kratom was linked to several deaths, as well as psychosis, seizures and an increased number of calls to poison control centers  

The DEA suspended its plan after an outcry and lobbying campaign by kratom supporters.

"Last year, the DEA tried to demonize kratom. In 2017, the kratom community finds itself in the same situation all over again,” said David Herman, chair of the American Kratom Association (AKA). “This time, we are being told that two deaths were supposedly the result of kratom use.  Let me be very clear about this:  We do not believe that kratom caused these deaths.  That's what the science tells us.

“Given that there are millions of kratom consumers in the U.S., if this botanical was dangerous it would stand to reason that there would be thousands … or even tens of thousands of deaths … and that is absolutely not the case."

The AKA backed another study last year that found kratom has little potential for abuse and dependence. Most kratom users say the herb has a mild analgesic and stimulative effect, similar to coffee.