Kratom Gave Me Hope

By Dijon Evans, Guest Columnist

I have taken kratom for 2 years now. I was cut off of my pain meds, after 40 years of proper and adhered to treatment.

There was no taper. No discussion. No warning. My pain management doctors just stopped treating all chronic pain patients and, shortly after, all of their terminal cancer patients.

I have full body Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), osteomyelitis, osteoporosis, neuropathy, sepsis, and two pulmonary embolisms.  I’ve had 3 amputations and have an artificial hip. My other hip needs replacement, as does my only knee. My spinal vertebrae are either broken, fractured or collapsed.

I've been having my jawbones ground on, drilled into and screwed together, all with no pain medication because of the panic caused by the CDC guideline, DEA enforcement and imprisonment of doctors.

Two years ago, I was leaving my home (after being bedridden for over 10 years) and asked for help getting into my wheelchair. I was on my way out the door to end my own life.

After being abandoned by the medical profession and my government, I lost all hope. I had no quality of life. And I sure as hell wasn't going to be tortured.

That's when I took my first bit of kratom. When my care provider, my boyfriend, showed up later that day, we both cried. He knelt beside me as I was sitting on the couch. Not in bed. Not begging for mercy. But sitting on the couch, smiling.

Yes, I am still terminal. Yes, I have bad days and flare ups. My doctors know I take kratom, follow me and cannot believe that when they see me, for the most part, I am smiling. I push my own wheelchair into my appointments.

DIJON EVANS

DIJON EVANS

I have blood work each month. No, I am not cured. But I now have hope.

My daughter and grandkids are happy to see me, not dreading it. I'm not in the hospital or ER as much. I have a little bit of quality of life -- while I can.

Is this really too much to ask?

I've done my research. I am educated. I'm an intelligent person. A grandma, a daughter, sister, niece, cousin, a mother, a significant person in several lives. I am important. I do matter.

I don't use much kratom, but if I was asked to change the amount and manner and participate in a clinical trial, I would gladly do so in order for the millions who may benefit and have benefited from it.

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Dijon Evans lives in California.

Do you have a story you want to share on PNN? Send it to: editor@painnewsnetwork.org.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

House Panel Seeks Clinical Trials of Kratom

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

At a time when several states and cities have banned kratom, a powerful congressional committee is recommending that the herbal supplement be studied in clinical trials because of its “potential promising results” in treating chronic pain.

In a report to Congress, the House Appropriations Committee recommends that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) conduct research on whether kratom can be used as an alternative to opioids in treating pain.

“The Committee requests that NIH expand research on all health impacts of kratom, including its constituent compounds, mitragynine, and 7-hydroxymitragynine. The Committee is aware of the potential promising results of kratom for acute and chronic pain patients who seek safer alternatives to sometimes dangerously addictive and potentially deadly prescription opioids.”

The committee also recommended that the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) spend $3 million on clinical trials of kratom and cannabidiol (CBD) as alternatives for treating pain, and that the trials be conducted in “geographic regions hardest hit by the opioids crisis.”

The panel said it was concerned that the continuing classification of cannabis as a Schedule I controlled substance was stifling research “at a time when we need as much information as possible about these drugs.”

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“The Committee notes that little research has been done to date on natural products that are used by many to treat pain in place of opioids. These natural plants and substances include kratom and cannabidiol (CBD). Given the wide availability and increased use of these substances, it is imperative to know more about potential risks or benefits, and whether or not they can have a role in finding new and effective non-opioid methods to treat pain.”

The committee said the current state of pain management in the U.S. is “often inadequate for many patients” and that additional treatments were needed. It asked that Congress be given an update on the development of non-opioid chronic pain therapies in the next fiscal year.

To be clear, the 346-page report by the House committee is an ambitious “wish list” of hundreds of various projects that may or may not be included in a final congressional spending bill.  But the inclusion of funding for kratom research is significant, given the campaign against kratom by some public health offiicials.

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 use it as a daily treatment for pain, addiction, depression and anxiety.  

Although kratom is not an opioid, health officials have warned that it has “opioid-like” qualities, can be addictive and is not approved for any medical condition. Last month the CDC said kratom was listed as the cause of death in at least 91 overdoses and the FDA said it discovered dangerous levels of heavy metals in dozens of kratom products.

Kratom has been banned in 6 states and dozens of counties and cities have enacted or are considering their own bans. Last year, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommended to the DEA that kratom be classified as a Schedule I substance – which would effectively ban it nationwide.

Ironically, HHS oversees both the NIH and AHRQ, the same agencies the House Appropriations Committee wants to fund for kratom research.   

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.”   

Kratom Missing From DEA Report on Drug Threats

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

The Drug Enforcement Administration has released the 2018 National Drug Threat Assessment, the agency’s annual report on drug trafficking and drug abuse in the United States.

Over 150 pages long, the annual report paints a grim picture of a nation overwhelmed by a tsunami of illicit fentanyl, heroin, prescription opioids, meth, marijuana, cocaine and other drugs that the DEA says are having “a devastating effect on our country.”

Conspicuously absent from the report is kratom, the herbal supplement that the FDA blames for dozens of fatal overdoses and the DEA once tried to list as a dangerous controlled substance — the same substance that Ohio health officials call a “psychoactive plant” that produces a “heroin-like high.” Ohio will soon join five other states in banning the sale and possession of kratom.

But there’s not a word about kratom in the National Drug Threat Assessment. There never has been.

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“It is not surprising.  Kratom is not the ‘dangerous opioid’ that the FDA has made it out to be,” says Jane Babin, PhD, a molecular biologist and consultant to the American Kratom Association, an organization of kratom vendors and consumers.  “It does not kill throngs of people like heroin and synthetic opioids. Everything we know about kratom is that people use it to avoid much more dangerous prescription and illicit opioids.”

Kratom comes from the leaves of a tree that grows in southeast Asia, where it has been used for centuries as a natural pain reliever and stimulant. In recent years, millions of Americans have discovered kratom and use it to self-treat their chronic pain, addiction, anxiety and depression.  

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As kratom has become more popular, the public health campaign against it has intensified. A small salmonella outbreak earlier this year in kratom products led to several recalls and stark warnings that “anyone consuming kratom may be placing themselves at a significant risk.”

Nearly 200 people were sickened in the outbreak, but no one died and the CDC never identified the source of the salmonella.

FDA commission Scott Gottlieb, MD, has taken to calling kratom an “opioid” (its active ingredients are alkaloids) and regularly tweets that consumers “should be aware of the mounting risks” of using the herb.

Yet there’s been no mention of kratom in the DEA’s annual assessment of drug risks in the United States.    

““Every year that goes by in which alleged ‘kratom-associated deaths’ don’t even merit a mention by DEA in this report further drives home the relative safety of kratom,” says Babin. “The only thing peculiar is that FDA refuses to acknowledge these facts.”