By Pat Anson, Editor
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has stepped up its campaign against the herbal supplement kratom by sending warning letters to three distributors of kratom products – the latest effort in what appears to be a concerted government effort to stop all sales of the herb.
Front Range Kratom, Kratom Spot and Revibe are accused of illegally selling unapproved “drug products” and making unproven claims about kratom’s ability to treatment opioid addiction, chronic pain and other medical conditions.
The FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have previously warned consumers not to consume any kratom products. The CDC said kratom was the “likely source” of a small salmonella outbreak, while the FDA alleged that kratom has opioid-like qualities and could lead to addiction and overdose.
“Despite our warnings that no kratom product is safe, we continue to find companies selling kratom and doing so with deceptive medical claims for which there’s no reliable scientific proof to support their use,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, said in a statement.
“We cannot allow unscrupulous vendors to take advantage of consumers by selling products with unsubstantiated claims that they can treat opioid addiction. Far from treating addiction, we’ve determined that kratom is an opioid analogue that may actually contribute to the opioid epidemic and puts patients at risk of serious side effects.”
Kratom comes from the leaves of a tree that grows in southeast Asia, where it has been used for centuries as a natural stimulant and pain reliever. In recent years, millions of Americans have discovered kratom and started using the herb as an alternative to prescription drugs for treating chronic pain, anxiety, depression, and addiction.
Like most herbal and dietary supplements, there is little scientific research to support the use of kratom and it is not approved for any medical condition by the FDA. As a result, many kratom distributors are careful to avoid making unsubstantiated medical claims. Front Range Kratom, for example, currently has a clear disclaimer on its website stating that:
“Information on this website is not for health-related guidance. The products mentioned on this website are not intended to diagnose, prevent, treat or cure any diseases or health conditions. You need to consult with a medical practitioner for all issues with regards to your overall health.”
But even sharing customer testimonials about kratom is considered illegal marketing by the FDA. The agency alleges in its warning letter to Front Range Kratom that the website contained comments from new customers such as “Certainly kratom is useful for pain — myself and everyone else on the internet can attest to that.” Another customer wrote that “the two things I think kratom works the best for are pain and to help people get through some of the post acute withdrawl (sic) symptoms they get when they come off of their pain medications.”
Those testimonials from kratom users can’t be found on the website today.
“If people believe that the active ingredients in kratom have drug-like effects that can treat pain or addiction, then the FDA is open to reviewing that data under our new drug approval process,” said Gottlieb. “In the meantime, I promised earlier this year that the FDA would step up our actions against unapproved and unsafe products that are being deceptively marketed for the treatment of opioid addiction and withdrawal symptoms.”
FDA investigators are also monitoring the social media sites of kratom vendors. Last October, Kratom Spot shared on its Facebook page a CNN story about kratom as a possible treatment for pain and opioid addiction. The company only said the story was “positive news for kratom as... an all natural alternative.” But the FDA said that amounted to the illegal marketing of an unapproved drug.
“The claims on your website and social media sites establish that your kratom products are drugs… because they are intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease—in particular, for opiate withdrawal and addiction,” the warning letter states.
It probably didn’t help that Kratom Spot shared a picture on its Facebook page of hundreds of kratom orders being readied for shipment by another federal agency -- the U.S. Postal Service.
Kratom Spot, Front Range Kratom and Revibe were all given 15 days to respond to the warning letters, which state that “failure to correct violations may result in law enforcement action such as seizure or injunction.”
The threat of legal action can be all that it takes to drive a kratom vendor out of business. In February, the FDA forced Divinity Products Distribution to recall and stop selling kratom products. The FDA said the company agreed to the “voluntary destruction” of its kratom products, even though there were no reports of illnesses associated with them.