More Overdoses Blamed on Kratom

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

A new analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists the herbal supplement kratom as the cause of death in at least 91 overdoses in the U.S. from 2016 to 2017.  Multiple substances were involved in the vast majority of those cases, with over half of the deaths also linked to fentanyl, a synthetic and potent opioid that has become a scourge on the black market.

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 kratom has grown in popularity in the U.S. as a treatment for chronic pain, addiction, depression and anxiety.  

Although kratom is not an opioid, public health officials have warned that it has “opioid-like” qualities, can be addictive and is not approved for any medical condition.

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In the new study, CDC researchers analyzed over 27,000 fatal overdoses in 27 states between July 2016 and December 2017. Kratom was determined to be the cause of death by a medical examiner or coroner in 91 overdoses, with multiple substances detected in all but seven of them.

Heavy Drug Use

Most of those who died were apparently heavy drug users. In nearly 80 percent of the kratom-involved deaths, the decedents had a prior history of substance misuse and 11% had survived a previous overdose.  Fentanyl or fentanyl analogs were co-listed as a cause of death in 56% of the kratom-involved deaths. Heroin was co-listed in about a third of the kratom cases, followed by benzodiazepines (22%), a class of anti-anxiety medication, prescription opioids (20%) and cocaine (18%).

“I’m actually pleased that they are recognizing that when kratom is present in a decedent, it is usually with other substances. Instead of blaming kratom as the cause of death, it points to polysubstance use,” said Jane Babin, PhD, a molecular biologist and patent attorney. “If someone takes a lethal dose of fentanyl plus kratom, it is unreasonable to conclude that kratom was the cause of death.  The same could be said of a lethal dose of fentanyl plus anything else – cannabis, coffee, Tylenol, etc.  This is the same situation in many ‘opioid related’ deaths, where multiple substances are present.”

Babin has worked as a consultant to the American Kratom Association, an advocacy group of kratom vendors and consumers. She has disputed previous reports of kratom overdoses – attributing them to faulty lab tests and inexperienced coroners.

“When a coroner can’t find an obvious physical cause of death, they pin the death on kratom even though they don’t have a link between the cause and manner of death and what is known about kratom pharmacology,” Babin wrote in an email to PNN. “I think the bigger question that CDC and FDA need to address is why do these people take so many different substances, including prescription medications?  

“The answer is not simple and there is no quick fix.  It is easier to blame kratom or opioids and focus on those instead of addressing the complex problems of pain, mental illness and the circumstances of life that lead people to take multiple substances.  At least they ‘look’ like they are doing something.”

It was another CDC report in July 2016 that laid the groundwork for an attempted ban on kratom. The report called kratom "an emerging public health threat" due to a modest increase in the number of kratom-related calls to poison control centers. The following month, the Drug Enforcement Administration tried to schedule kratom as a controlled substance, something the agency backed away from after a public outcry.

Last week the Food and Drug Administration released a laboratory analysis that found dangerous levels of heavy metals in over two dozen kratom products. However, the agency did not consider the finding significant enough to order a recall. Kratom has never been listed as dangerous substance in the DEA’s annual National Drug Threat Assessment.

FDA Finds Unsafe Levels of Heavy Metals in Kratom

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

The American Kratom Association’s new certified vendor program has gotten off to an inauspicious start. Kraken Kratom, the first vendor to qualify under the AKA’s Good Manufacturing Standards (GMP) program, has been flagged by the Food and Drug Administration for having dangerous levels of heavy metals in some of its products.

The FDA this week released the final test results on 30 kratom products found to contain levels of lead and nickel considered unsafe for daily human consumption. Five of the 30 samples that tested positive came from Kraken Kratom or one of its affiliated vendors.

“The analysis found significant levels of lead and nickel at concentrations that exceed safe exposure for oral daily drug intake,” the FDA said in a statement. “Based on these test results, the typical long-term kratom user could potentially develop heavy metal poisoning, which could include nervous system or kidney damage, anemia, high blood pressure, and/or increased risk of certain cancers.”

Ironically, last month Kraken Kraken became the first company to receive the AKA’s seal of approval as a certified GMP vendor. To qualify, participants must undergo a third-party audit and inspection of their manufacturing and packaging facilities.   

The company said in a statement posted online that it was never contacted by the FDA about the heavy metal findings or told to take its kratom products off the market.

“Kraken has no information regarding the samples the FDA used in their tests, including when or how the FDA acquired our products or when they tested the samples they obtained,” the statement said.

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This isn’t the first time Kraken Kratom has come under FDA scrutiny. Its parent company, PDX Aromatics of Portland, Oregon, recalled thousands of kratom packages last year after samples tested positive for Salmonella bacteria. The company believes the samples that tested positive for heavy metals may have come from an FDA inspection in March, 2018.

“If these samples are from that investigation, their product lots were pulled from the market over 12 months ago as part of the extensive recall we did in cooperation with the FDA. Further, it would indicate that the FDA was rehashing old information, not in an attempt to protect the public, but as a way to target and further stigmatize kratom,” the company said.

In recent years, millions of Americans have discovered kratom, an herb grown and used in southeast Asia for centuries as a natural stimulant and pain reliever. Kratom is widely available online and in smoke shops, but the quality of what’s being sold and what country it came from are often unknown. Like other dietary supplements, kratom products are essentially unregulated and there are little or no quality controls.

That’s one of the reasons the AKA launched its GMP certification program. The organization said it wanted to protect kratom consumers from “unscrupulous vendors using sloppy manufacturing procedures” and those who adulterate kratom to boost its potency by adding substances like fentanyl or morphine.

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But under the AKA’s certification program, no kratom products are actually tested for Salmonella bacteria, heavy metals, fentanyl or any other foreign substances.

“No, absolutely not. That is not our function,” AKA President Dave Herman told PNN. “The audit does not inspect the products. The audit inspects the procedures in place to manage the facility.”

Herman says third party auditors hired by the vendor and approved by the AKA only inspect manufacturing procedures — not the kratom itself. He declined to comment on the FDA’s discovery of heavy metals in Kraken Kratom products.

“I have no way of knowing when samples were taken or under what conditions they were taken,” he said. “Was it prior to an inspection? After an inspection? And without that knowledge I’m not sure I can say anything intelligent,” Herman said.

A handful of states have banned kratom and there is speculation the Drug Enforcement Administration will try again to schedule it as a controlled substance, something the agency backed away from in 2016 after a public outcry. FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD – who leaves office today -- has also mounted an extended public relations campaign against kratom.

"Over the last year, the FDA has issued numerous warnings about the serious risks associated with the use of kratom, including novel risks due to the variability in how kratom products are formulated, sold and used both recreationally and by those who are seeking to self-medicate for pain or to treat opioid withdrawal symptoms,” Gottlieb said in a statement.

“Data suggest that certain substances in kratom have opioid properties and that one or more have the potential for abuse. The findings of identifying heavy metals in kratom only strengthen our public health warnings around this substance and concern for the health and safety of Americans using it."

Is Kratom Being Spiked With Other Drugs?

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

It’s no secret that illicit fentanyl has become a scourge on the black market. The potent synthetic opioid – about 100 times stronger than morphine --  is now involved in over half of U.S. overdoses. Fentanyl is being found in a wide variety of street drugs, including heroin, meth, cocaine and marijuana, and it is increasingly used in the manufacture of counterfeit painkillers and other fake medications.  

“As traffickers have expanded into the sale of fentanyl-containing counterfeit pills, the scope of users who were exposed to fentanyl increased significantly; the prescription pain reliever misuser population is almost ten times that of the heroin user population,” a recent DEA report warns. “The presence of fentanyl-containing counterfeit pills in an area is increasingly associated with spikes in overdose deaths.”

Although there is no hard evidence that drug dealers are mixing fentanyl with kratom to boost its potency, some in the kratom community think it is inevitable that someone will try. There have already been cases of kratom products being adulterated with hydrocodone and other opioids.

“I don’t know that there’s been a case of fentanyl in kratom, but since that’s what they are finding in everything else and that is the most dangerous drug out there now, it stands to reason that someone who would spike kratom with hydrocodone would now spike it with fentanyl either wittingly or unwittingly,” said Jane Babin, PhD, a molecular biologist and consultant to the American Kratom Association (AKA), an advocacy group for kratom vendors and consumers.

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Like other dietary supplements, kratom products are essentially unregulated and there are little or no quality controls.

In an effort to change that, this week the AKA officially launched a good manufacturing practice (GMP) program, which will require producers of kratom products to meet strict manufacturing standards verified by a third-party auditor if they want to be certified by the AKA.  

"The AKA GMP Standards Program will help reassure the public and demonstrate to the FDA, DEA, lawmakers, and others that the kratom industry is acting responsibly," AKA president Dave Herman said in a statement. 

"The AKA GMP Standards Program will also protect kratom consumers from unscrupulous vendors who produce kratom products using sloppy manufacturing procedures that allow for contamination, and equally important the standards program will exclude vendors who deliberately adulterate kratom products to boost their effect by adding dangerous and sometimes deadly substances like fentanyl or morphine." 

In recent years, millions of Americans have discovered kratom, which has been used in southeast Asia for centuries as a natural stimulant and pain reliever. Kratom is widely available online and in smoke shops, but the quality of what’s being sold and where it comes from is often unknown – even by the people selling it.

“The stuff that’s sold as kratom in the United States cannot be reliably proven to be kratom,” Edward Boyer, MD, a Professor of Emergency Medicine at Harvard Medical School, recently told PNN.  “There is evidence to suggest that some of the kratom sold in the United States is adulterated to make it more potent, to make it more powerful.”

Boyer says some kratom products have been found to contain artificially high levels of 7-hydroxymitragynine, one of the naturally occurring alkaloids that make kratom act on opioid receptors in the brain. Manufacturers may also be lacing kratom with opioids and other drugs.

“One theory is that some unscrupulous vendors may be spiking kratom with something more potent to drive business. It may be even more prevalent than we know, which could account for some of the reports on Reddit and Blue Light (online message boards) that say kratom is addictive and it does lead to euphoria,” Babin said in an email.

A handful of states have already banned kratom and there is speculation that the DEA will soon try again to schedule it as a controlled substance, something the agency backed away from in 2016 after a public outcry. The FDA has recently mounted a public relations campaign against kratom, what the AKA calls a “shadow ban” that has led to kratom shortages.

Could the AKA’s effort to improve the quality of kratom products backfire by giving ammunition to federal regulators who want a nationwide ban?

“That kratom may be adulterated is not a reason to ban it.  There are reports all the time of dietary supplements, even ones sold by reputable companies like GNC and Vitamin Shoppe, are adulterated with prescription drugs, banned substances and who knows what else,” says Babin.

“The other thing to consider is that if kratom is banned, demand may lead to a black market.  It will likely be smuggled in and/or products not containing kratom will be sold as kratom and those may be spiked with other substances, including fentanyl.”

Is FDA ‘Shadow Ban’ Causing Kratom Shortages?

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

The American Kratom Association (AKA), an advocacy group for kratom vendors and consumers, came out with an alarming bulletin this week.

“BREAKING: FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb is shutting down kratom supplies shipments to the United States. The AKA is running out of time and resources to make sure we can secure the supply chain for you to purchase kratom,” read the post on the AKA’s Facebook page.

The bulletin claimed the FDA was trying to “criminalize kratom users” and then launched into a fundraising appeal asking supporters to “dig deep and send a contribution right now” to the AKA to support its lobbying efforts.

At best, the AKA’s bulletin was premature. At worst, it was misleading. Gottlieb is certainly no friend of kratom, but he’s not issued orders shutting down imports of kratom, an herbal supplement long used as a stimulant and pain reliever in southeast Asia.

The FDA declared an “import alert” for kratom in 2012 and again in 2014 – long before Gottlieb became commissioner – authorizing the seizure of dietary supplements containing kratom. Several large shipments were confiscated as a result of the alert, but clandestine imports of kratom into the U.S. continued largely unchecked.

Kratom has since become widely available online and in many smoke shops, and millions of Americans have discovered kratom can be used to self-treat their chronic pain, anxiety, depression and addiction.

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AKA president Dave Herman told PNN the bulletin was based largely on anecdotal reports from a handful of vendors who had kratom shipments confiscated in recent months.  

“I’m sure some of them don’t want to talk about it, but I’ve talked to at least four or five that said their stuff has been grabbed,” Herman said. “I know of one vendor that had a hundred tons literally confiscated.

“We feel from day one that commissioner Gottlieb has been running a shadow ban. It’s clearly an attempt to ban and they’re using any and all portals to do that. But can I hand you a piece of paper (from FDA) that says, ‘We’re doing it?’ No.”

Herman said some kratom vendors are down to a few weeks supply.  

“There’s a lot of fear about what’s going on out there,” he said.

Kratom Demonized

Inflammatory rhetoric and scare tactics have become increasingly common in the escalating debate over kratom.

Gottlieb publicly calls kratom an “opioid” – even though its active ingredients are alkaloids -- while claiming there is “no evidence to indicate that kratom is safe or effective for any medical use.” Last year, the FDA claimed dozens of fatal overdoses were associated with kratom, while admitting nearly all of the deaths involved other drugs and “could not be fully assessed.”

Several kratom products were recalled earlier this year during an FDA and CDC investigation of a small salmonella outbreak associated with the herb. Although the source of the outbreak was never identified and only about 200 people were sickened, Gottlieb said “anyone consuming kratom may be placing themselves at a significant risk of being exposed to salmonella.”

More recently, Ohio health officials have claimed kratom produces a “heroin-like high” and was being used intravenously by drug addicts – a notion that most kratom users found preposterous.

“Who the hell is injecting kratom? These people are out of their minds,” one reader told us.

The FDA did not directly respond to a request for comment on the AKA’s bulletin, only saying that “certain kratom products and importers” were targeted in its 2012 import alert. But Herman says it is clear to him what’s happening in 2018. “It’s a full demonization. I don’t think there is any doubt about that,” he said.

Herman believes federal health officials may be trying to avoid scheduling kratom as a controlled substance, something the DEA tried and failed to do in 2016 after a public outcry.  Scheduling kratom would require a public comment period and likely get Congress involved, which the FDA can avoid with a “shadow ban.”

“It’s a concerted effort. There is a (kratom) shortage out there. The shortage didn’t exist previously,” Herman said. “The range I’ve heard of any (vendor) inventory is the highest is 6 months and the lowest is two weeks. There’s definitely a movement there and its harder and harder to get the product into the country.”

When asked if the AKA bulletin could incite fear and lead to hoarding and price increases, Herman was circumspect.

“Some people will stock up. Some won’t,” he said. “How people react, I can’t anticipate. I don’t know the answer to that. I do know that’s there’s a shortage of product. And I think prices have already risen, best as I can tell.”   

Do Drug Addicts Really Shoot Kratom?

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

Our story last week about drug addicts in Ohio allegedly shooting kratom to get a “heroin-like high” angered many people who use the herbal supplement to treat chronic pain and other medical conditions.

“Who the hell is injecting kratom? These people are out of their minds,” wrote one reader.

“No one and I mean no one has ever injected kratom. Kratom is a wonderous, natural plant with many positive effects,” said Erik.

“It’s pathetic that lies like this are being spread about a natural leaf that helps with pain,” wrote Jennifer Greenwood. “Nobody buys kratom from heroin dealers.”

But that’s exactly what the Ohio Substance Abuse Monitoring Network (OSAM) reported earlier this year in its statewide assessment of drug abuse trends. OSAM called a kratom “a psychoactive plant” and claimed drug users in northeast Ohio were buying kratom from heroin dealers and then injecting it.

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“Participants reported that the most common route of administration for kratom is intravenous injection (aka “shooting”). Participants in the Akron-Canton region estimated that out of 10 kratom users, seven would shoot the drug and three would orally consume the drug (including drinking it as a tea),” OSAM said.

The OSAM report was cited by the Ohio Board of Pharmacy when it voted last week to classify kratom as a Schedule I controlled substance, alongside heroin, LSD and other dangerous drugs.

The board said kratom can cause hallucinations, psychosis, seizures, weight loss and insomnia, and cited six deaths in Ohio in which kratom was “the primary cause of death.”

The FDA and DEA have made similar claims about the health risks of kratom, but OSAM appears to be the first public agency to allege that kratom is taken intravenously. Repeated calls to OSAM for further information were not returned.    

Kratom comes from the leaves of a tree that grows in southeast Asia, where it has been used for centuries as a pain reliever and stimulant. In recent years, millions of Americans have discovered kratom and started using it as a treatment for pain, addiction, anxiety and depression.

“I don’t think most kratom users are injecting it.  Most users that I’ve ever talked to either mix it with a beverage, ‘toss and swish’, or take capsules,” says Jane Babin, PhD, a molecular biologist and consultant to the American Kratom Association, an organization of kratom vendors and consumers.

While skeptical that anyone would inject kratom, Babin says some addicts are desperate enough to try anything. She thinks the kratom sold by drug dealers in Ohio could be adulterated heroin.

“They describe kratom as a brown substance that resembles heroin.  So I can’t help wondering if what they were using was heroin or at least something other than kratom,” Babin wrote in an email to PNN.

“I can’t imagine that they would be mixing powdered leaf kratom with liquid, heating it and injecting it.  There’s too much insoluble plant matrix/cellulose.  If they did, I would expect problems unless they could filter it… which isn’t likely.  Injecting an ethanol extract directly would likely cause tissue damage, and I have to wonder how sterile any of it is.”

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But there is a case in the medical literature of a 29-year old Rhode Island man doing just that. He started using kratom to treat his opioid addiction, but eventually developed a tolerance for it and needed more.

“He was initially drinking Kratom tea daily, then several times daily, until he found a way to inject it intravenously,” researchers reported last year in the Journal of Toxicology and Pharmacology.

“He began buying Kratom extract in alcohol. He let the alcohol evaporate in a spoon, and then dissolved the remaining resin in water to inject. Subsequently, he began cooking off the alcohol with heat. Finally, the patient said that he was impatient, and began injecting the extract directly. At the time of presentation, he was buying Kratom extract from multiple online vendors, and injecting 1 ml of extract six times daily.”

The man eventually checked himself into an emergency room and sought treatment for kratom addiction.

“This case is an important reminder of the chronic nature of opioid addiction, which has a high rate of relapse. As Kratom becomes more popular in patients seeking abstinence from opiates, including heroin, such intravenous use may also increase,” researchers warned.

Adulterated Kratom

One of the co-authors of that study believes there is another potential risk. Like other food and herbal supplements, kratom products are essentially unregulated and there are little or no quality controls.

“The stuff that’s sold as kratom in the United States cannot be reliably proven to be kratom,” says Edward Boyer, MD, a Professor of Emergency Medicine at Harvard Medical School.   

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“There is evidence to suggest that some of the kratom sold in the United States is adulterated to make it more potent, to make it more powerful.”

Boyer says some kratom supplements have been found to have artificially elevated levels of 7-hydroxymitragynine, one of the naturally occurring alkaloids that make kratom act on opioid receptors in the brain. He suspects opioid drugs are also being used to boost kratom’s potency.

“The fact that a lot of kratom is adulterated is not surprising,” says Jane Babin.  “I suspect it is more prevalent in the stuff that’s being sold at smoke shops and gas stations.  This is a red herring when it comes to kratom, in the same way that Salmonella contamination is.  Both are ‘problems’ with simple solutions through regulation and oversight of kratom identity and purity.”

Instead of banning kratom, Babin says it should be regulated with a standards and certification program that would help keep adulterated products off the market.

Kratom is already banned in Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Vermont, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia. And there is speculation that the DEA may try again to classify kratom as a federal Schedule I controlled substance, which would make sales and possession of the plant illegal nationwide. The DEA withdrew a plan to ban kratom in 2016 after a public outcry.

Last week’s vote by the Ohio pharmacy board starts a months-long process of drafting new regulations for kratom, so a ban isn’t in effect yet. Public comments will be accepted until October 18. 

“If Ohio does ban kratom (and I hope they don’t), I predict that the already epic opioid overdose problem in that state will get worse,” says Babin. “It would be a shame for Ohio to indirectly prove the value of kratom in combating the opioid crisis when, after it is banned, overdose deaths and suicides increase.”

More Salmonella Cases Linked to Kratom

By Pat Anson, Editor

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says another 45 people have been sickened in a salmonella outbreak linked to the herbal supplement kratom.  A total of 132 people have been infected in 38 states, with 38 of them hospitalized. There have been no deaths.

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.

This particular outbreak is small compared to previous ones, but it’s been long-lasting. While the vast majority of cases have only been reported in the last few months, CDC traced the first illnesses back to January 2017. Three different Salmonella strains have been identified – none of them resistant to antibiotics.

Millions of Americans use kratom to treat chronic pain, addiction, depression, anxiety and other medical conditions. The CDC says kratom is the “likely source” of the outbreak – although the evidence behind it is not entirely clear.

Several kratom samples have been found to be contaminated with salmonella bacteria, but less than half the people sickened in the outbreak say they consumed kratom. Their ages are also unusual, ranging from 1 to 73 years old.

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“State and local health officials continue to interview ill people to ask about the foods they ate and other exposures before they became ill. Fifty-seven (73%) of 78 people interviewed reported consuming kratom in pills, powder, or tea,” the CDC said in its latest update.

“People who reported consuming kratom purchased it from retail locations in several states and from various online retailers. Despite the information collected to date about where ill people purchased kratom, a single common brand or supplier of kratom has not been linked to the outbreak. CDC continues to recommend that people not consume kratom in any form because it could be contaminated with Salmonella and could make people sick.”

Earlier this week, the Food and Drug Administration ordered a Las Vegas company – Triangle Pharmanaturals -- to recall all of its dietary supplements containing kratom. The rare mandatory recall order was issued after the company refused to make a voluntary recall when some of its kratom capsules were found contaminated with salmonella.

There other kratom distributors – PDX Aromatics, Tamarack and NutriZone voluntarily recalled their products after samples tested positive for salmonella. A complete list of recalled kratom products can be found here.

Many kratom supporters remain suspicious of the motives behind the federal government’s salmonella investigation. The Drug Enforcement Administration tried unsuccessfully to list kratom as a controlled substance in 2016, which would have effectively banned its sale and use. In recent months, the FDA has also released several warnings that kratom should not be used to treat any medical conditions because it has opioid-like properties and could cause addiction.

The American Kratom Association (AKA) – a pro-kratom association of consumers and vendors -- is currently surveying members “to get a clearer picture” of the actions taken by the FDA and CDC in the salmonella outbreak.

“We are particularly concerned with reports that the FDA/CDC may be using the salmonella outbreak purportedly in kratom products as a pretext to allow the FDA to expand their war on kratom,” the AKA says on its website. “If your business was contacted by either the FDA or CDC regarding the salmonella outbreak that has been associated with kratom, we are asking that you take the following survey.”

Among other things, the survey asks vendors if they were given a laboratory analysis of any “alleged salmonella contamination” by the FDA or CDC, and if they were given time to conduct their own independent lab test.    

Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Kratom Spreads

By Pat Anson, Editor

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says a dozen more people have been sickened by a Salmonella outbreak linked to the herbal supplement kratom – raising to 40 the number of suspected cases. The number of states where the illnesses have been reported rose from 20 to 27.

For the first time, investigators have also found Salmonella bacteria linked to the outbreak in kratom powder samples in North Dakota and Utah.

“The outbreak strain of Salmonella was identified in both samples. The ill person in North Dakota purchased S.K. Herbalist brand kratom powder from the website soapkorner.com. The ill person in Utah purchased kratom powder from the website kratoma.com,” the CDC said in a statement.

“Despite the information collected to date about where ill people purchased kratom, a single common brand or supplier of kratom has not been linked to the outbreak. At this time, CDC recommends that people not consume kratom in any form because it could be contaminated with Salmonella and could make people sick.”

STATES reporting SALMONELLA ILLNESSES

STATES reporting SALMONELLA ILLNESSES

State and local health officials have interviewed 24 people sickened by Salmonella, asking them about food and other substances they were exposed to before they became ill.

Seventeen of the 24 reported consuming kratom in pills, powder, or tea. Three said they purchased kratom from retail locations and 10 said they bought kratom online.

Illnesses from the Salmonella outbreak began last October, with the most recent case reported on February 13. Fourteen people have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.

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.

It generally takes about two to four weeks before a person infected with Salmonella is reported, so its possible there could be more than 40 cases in the current outbreak. 

Kratom comes from the leaves of a tree that grows in Southeast Asia, where it has been used for centuries for its medicinal properties. In recent years, millions of Americans have started using kratom to treat chronic pain, depression, anxiety and addiction, conceivably costing the pharmaceutical industry billions of dollars in lost revenue.

FDA Warns Utah Company

In a move apparently unrelated to the Salmonella outbreak, the Food and Drug Administration warned a Utah company this week not to launch a new dietary supplement that is based on mitragynine -- one of the alkaloids found in kratom.

The FDA said Industrial Chemicals was using “inaccurate and misleading statements” on its website to promote Mitrasafe. Among other things, the company said that Mitrasafe was “fully compliant with all FDA laws and rules.”  

“Today, we notified a company making claims for a compound in kratom that its product is an unapproved new drug and an adulterated dietary supplement,” FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, said in a statement.

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“The company is claiming that its product is a ‘natural substitute for opium,’ that it has ‘morphine-like effects,’ and that it can help relieve pain along with a litany of other ailments. Just as troubling, this company promotes kratom as effective in ‘curing addiction’ and treating ‘withdrawal symptoms.’ These unlawful practices not only mislead consumers, but can also prevent people suffering from addiction from seeking effective treatments.”

Industrial Chemicals planned to start selling Mitrasafe on February 28. A spokesman for the company said the launch date has been postponed while it appeals the FDA decision.

“We did not make any drug claims. On the contrary. We did not claim that Mitrasafe itself could do these things or have opium like qualities at all. We never even came close,” said attorney John VanOphem. “The FDA wants to be taken seriously on this stuff? I’m sorry, they haven’t followed their own guidance. This is alarming to me. To have us become the whipping boy poster child on this is just outrageous."

VanOphem told PNN the company has spent years trying to work with the FDA to get Mitrasafe approved.

“The FDA has done nothing to prove that they’re actually interested in addressing the substance of this. They’re just not credible and it’s a shame,” said VanOphem. “All they intend to do is ban kratom, period. There’s no other option for them. They’ve never acknowledged any other option.”  

Unlike pharmaceutical drugs, dietary supplements like kratom are -- for the most part -- loosely regulated by the FDA. But in recent months the agency has launched an unprecedented public campaign to discourage people from using kratom.

In November, the FDA released a public health advisory warning about kratom's potential health risks, especially when used to treat opioid addiction. Last month the agency released a computer analysis that alleged kratom contains over two dozen opioid-like substances that share structural similarities to painkillers such as morphine.

“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. And claiming that kratom is benign because it’s ‘just a plant’ is shortsighted and dangerous,”  Gottlieb said in a statement.

In 2016, the Drug Enforcement Administration attempted to ban kratom by scheduling it as an illegal controlled substance, but a public outcry and lobbying campaign forced the DEA to suspend its scheduling decision. Many kratom supporters fear that another attempt to ban kratom is imminent.

“We’re in for a fight,” said David Herman, president of the American Kratom Association, a pro-kratom consumer group. “There’s no question they want to ban it.”

FDA Recalls Three Kratom Brands

By Pat Anson, Editor

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration Wednesday announced the recall of three brands of dietary supplements containing kratom, the latest move in what appears to be a concerted government campaign to stop all sales of the herb.

The recall involves a large volume of kratom supplements sold under the brand names Botany Bay, Enhance Your Life and Divinity, which are manufactured and sold nationwide by Divinity Products Distribution of Missouri. The FDA said the company had agreed to the “voluntary destruction” of its kratom products, even though there have been no reports of illnesses associated with them.

“The company has also agreed to stop selling all products containing kratom. Based on the scientific evidence of the serious risks associated with the use of kratom, in the interest of public health, the FDA encourages all companies currently involved in the sale of products containing kratom intended for human consumption to take similar steps to take their products off the market,” the FDA said in a statement.

The move appears unrelated to Tuesday’s warning from the CDC linking kratom to a Salmonella bacteria outbreak in 20 states. The CDC said 8 of the 28 people who were sickened by Salmonella had recently used kratom, making it the "likely source." No actual bacteria was found in a kratom product.

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In recent months, the FDA has released a public health advisory warning that kratom should not be marketed as a treatment for opioid addiction, chronic pain, depression or any other medical condition. The agency also released a computer analysis that found kratom contains over two dozen opioid-like substances.

“The extensive scientific data we’ve evaluated about kratom provides conclusive evidence that compounds contained in kratom are opioids and are expected to have similar addictive effects as well as risks of abuse, overdose and, in some cases, death. At the same time, there’s no evidence to indicate that kratom is safe or effective for any medical use,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, said in a statement.

“To protect the public health, we’ll continue to affirm the risks associated with kratom, warn consumers against its use and take aggressive enforcement action against kratom-containing products. We appreciate the cooperation of companies currently marketing any kratom product for human consumption to take swift action to remove these products from circulation to protect the public.” 

'No Question They Want to Ban It’

“We’re in for a fight,” said David Herman, president of the American Kratom Association, a pro-kratom consumer group. “This is clearly a disinformation campaign. They are creating through a grassroots effort what they can’t seem to be able to (prove) with science.

“This is a bazooka against a fly. What are they doing? We’ve got misinformation everywhere.”

Herman says there is little doubt the FDA is moving to have all kratom products taken off the market.

“This is a concerted movement and it’s had a lot of disinformation with it,” he told PNN. “This is clearly what FDA wants to do. We hope the DEA has some thoughts against it, but no, there’s no question they want to ban it.”  

In 2016, the Drug Enforcement Administration attempted to ban kratom by scheduling it as an illegal controlled substance, but a public outcry and lobbying campaign forced the DEA to suspend its scheduling decision.

Herman said any renewed attempt to schedule kratom as a controlled substance would have to go through a public comment and hearing process, which could take a year or longer. He sees it as part of a larger effort by the FDA to have greater control over the loosely regulated dietary supplement industry.

“The only logical conclusion is that this is the first salvo in controlling the supplement business. We are on the frontline of a fight that will encompass a whole lot more than kratom,” Herman said.

Kratom Supporters Say Ban Would Worsen Opioid Crisis

By Pat Anson, Editor

Nine scientists are warning that a renewed effort to make the herbal supplement kratom an illegal Schedule I controlled substance would worsen the opioid crisis and lead to more overdoses.

“It is our collective judgment that placing kratom into Schedule I will potentially increase the number of deaths of Americans caused by opioids because many people who have found kratom to be their lifeline away from strong opioids will be vulnerable to resumption of that opioid use,” wrote lead author Jack Henningfield, PhD, in a letter to Acting DEA administrator Robert Patterson and White House advisor Kellyanne Conway.

“A ban on kratom that would be imposed by CSA Scheduling would put them at risk of relapse to opioid use with the potential consequence of overdose death. Similar unintended consequences are to be expected in some who would be forced to use opioids to manage acute or chronic pain.”

The letter was released by the American Kratom Association (AKA), a pro-kratom consumer group, in response to an FDA analysis this week stating that kratom contains risky chemical compounds that act as opioids.   

“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 FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, in a lengthy statement.

“As the 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. And 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."

Kratom comes from a tree that grows in southeast Asia, where it has been used for centuries for its medicinal properties. Kratom leaves are typically ground up into powder to make tea or used in capsules. Millions of Americans have discovered kratom in recent years, using it to treat chronic pain, anxiety, depression, and addiction.

In 2016, the Drug Enforcement Administration tried to list two of kratom’s active ingredients as Schedule I substances, which would have made it a felony to sell or possess kratom. The DEA suspended its plan after a public outcry and asked for a full medical evaluation of kratom from the FDA.

KRATOM POWDER

KRATOM POWDER

The new report from the FDA -- which links kratom to dozens of overdose deaths – seems likely to trigger a new effort by the DEA to make the herb an illegal controlled substance. That would be a serious mistake, according to the scientists engaged by the AKA, because it would stifle kratom research.

“Placing kratom into Schedule I of the CSA (Controlled Substances Act) will also have a profound and pervasive chilling effect on this needed additional research,” they wrote. “The federal government should be encouraging additional research into the potential benefits of kratom, as well as the possibility that extracts of kratom and/or new medicines that are similar to kratom’s active ingredients might serve as breakthroughs in pain relieving medicines that are so desperately needed.”

The letter was signed by scientists and researchers affiliated with the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Columbia University, Temple University School of Medicine, University of Rochester Medical Center, University of British Columbia, and other academic and medical institutions.

FDA Report Calls Kratom an Opioid

By Pat Anson, Editor

The herbal supplement kratom contains opioids and should not be used to treat any medical condition, according to a new analysis by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The report seems likely to trigger a renewed effort to classify kratom as an illegal Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act.

“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. And claiming that kratom is benign because it’s ‘just a plant’ is shortsighted and dangerous,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, in a lengthy statement.

“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.”

Kratom comes from the leaves of a tree that grows in southeast Asia, where it has been used for centuries for its medicinal properties.  Millions of Americans have discovered kratom in recent years, using it to treat chronic pain, anxiety, depression, and addiction.

In 2016, the Drug Enforcement Administration attempted to list two of kratom’s active ingredients as Schedule I substances. The DEA suspended its plan after a public outcry, and said it would wait for a scheduling recommendation and medical evaluation of kratom from the FDA.

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The new report may prompt the DEA to try again.  In a computer analysis using what the FDA calls Public Health Assessment via Structural Evaluation (PHASE) methodology, FDA researchers identified 25 chemical compounds in kratom that share structural similarities with opioid analgesics such as morphine. Like painkillers, the substances bind to mu-opioid receptors in the brain and – according to the computer models -- act the same way as opioids.

“The data from the PHASE model shows us that kratom compounds are predicted to affect the body just like opioids. Based on the scientific information in the literature and further supported by our computational modeling and the reports of its adverse effects in humans, we feel confident in calling compounds found in kratom, opioids,” Gottlieb said.

FDA Analysis Called ‘Junk Science'

Critics of the FDA analysis say it contains numerous errors and signs of confirmation bias.

"The failure of the FDA to justify its attempt to schedule kratom using traditional and well-accepted scientific methods has apparently driven the FDA to move into the world of junk science.  Using computer modeling is very susceptible to bias in the assumptions the are built into the computer algorithms.  In short, the old adage of 'garbage in – garbage out' applies to such dramatic testing standards," said Dave Herman, chairman of the American Kratom Association (AKA), a pro-kratom consumer group.

In addition to its analysis, the FDA released a detailed report on 36 deaths associated with kratom over the past several years. The agency admits all but one of the overdose deaths involved other drugs and “could not be fully assessed.” There was only one death involving a person who had no prior opioid use.  

“We’re continuing to investigate this report, but the information we have so far reinforces our concerns about the use of kratom. In addition, a few assessable cases with fatal outcomes raise concern that kratom is being used in combination with other drugs that affect the brain, including illicit drugs, prescription opioids, benzodiazepines and over-the-counter medications, like the anti-diarrheal medicine, loperamide,” Gottlieb said.

"It is more of the same useless rhetoric from FDA," says Jane Babin, a molecular biologist who authored a report last year for the AKA that discredited many of the reports linking overdoses to kratom.

"Bottom line:  36 deaths over 3, 5, 7 or more years that they can't prove were caused by kratom, versus 16,000 deaths from killer street opioids," Babin wrote in an email. 

In a survey of 6,150 kratom users by Pain News Network and the AKA, most reported they used kratom as a treatment for chronic pain, depression, anxiety or addiction. Many say the herb is safe, effective and has literally saved their lives

“Kratom is the one thing that has kept me from using opiates and other illegal substances. I've been able to stay clean for 3 years now. It's given me my life back,” one survey respondent wrote.

“Kratom is the only reason I was finally able to end my addiction to hydrocodone. It is nowhere near as potent as hydrocodone, and you can't overdose” said another.

“I've had several friends who have died from heroin overdose. If they knew about kratom they may still be alive today,” wrote another kratom user.

One of the dilemmas faced by the FDA and DEA is that kratom products are currently classified as dietary supplements, and there are few regulatory standards applied to their importation or ingredients. The only requirement for kratom vendors is that they don't make unsubstantiated health claims. Classifying kratom as a Schedule I controlled substance would radically change that, making it a felony to possess or sell kratom, and likely creating an underground black market for the herb.