By Pat Anson, Editor
Kratom just can’t get a break. In recent weeks, the herbal supplement used by millions of Americans to treat chronic pain, depression and addiction has been blamed by federal agencies for dozens of fatal overdoses and even been called an opioid.
Now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has linked kratom to a salmonella outbreak and is recommending that people "not consume kratom in any form."
The bacterial infection has sickened 28 people, eleven serious enough to be hospitalized, but there have been no deaths. The outbreak began in October 2017 and has reached 20 states scattered around the country, which are highlighted in the map below.
“Epidemiologic evidence indicates that kratom is a likely source of this multistate outbreak,” the CDC said in a statement.
“In interviews, ill people answered questions about the foods they ate and other exposures in the months before they became ill. Eight (73%) of 11 people interviewed reported consuming kratom in pills, powder, or tea. No common brands or suppliers of kratom have been identified at this time."
The CDC statement did not say that Salmonella bacteria had actually been found in any samples of kratom. Nor did it explain how kratom use in 8 out of 28 cases establishes a link or proves that it was "a likely source."
The only "epidemiologic evidence" that investigators have established is that when they compared bacteria samples from people who were infected, they found the bacteria were closely related genetically.
"This means that people in this outbreak are more likely to share a common source of infection," the CDC said. "At this time, CDC recommends that people not consume kratom in any form. The investigation indicates that kratom products could be contaminated with Salmonella and could make people sick."
Salmonella is a bacterial infection usually spread through contaminated food or water. Most people who become infected develop diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps. Salmonella causes an estimated one million food-borne illnesses a year in the United States, with 19,000 hospitalizations and 380 deaths.
In the current outbreak, the CDC says there could be more cases than the 28 reported, because salmonella infections typically take 2 to 4 weeks before the illnesses are confirmed.
It was a July 2016 report from the CDC that claimed kratom was linked to several overdose deaths and was “an emerging public health threat” that led the Drug Enforcement Administration to attempt to schedule kratom as an illegal controlled substance. Kratom supporters said the CDC research was amateurish and flawed, and a public outcry and lobbying campaign eventually forced the DEA to suspend its scheduling decision.
Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration released a computer analysis that found kratom contains over two dozen opioid-like substances – a report that critics say was biased and amounted to “junk science.” The computer analysis and a recent FDA public health advisory may indicate the federal government is planning another attempt at scheduling.
Kratom comes from the leaves of a tree that grows in Southeast Asia, where it has been used for centuries for its medicinal properties.