An herbal supplement known as Kratom is creating controversy among those who use it and the federal government.
The Food and Drug Administration is now branding the plant as a dangerous drug.
“Compounds in Kratom make it so it isn’t just a plant — it’s an opioid,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb declared in a statement.
Two years ago, the Drug Enforcement Agency tried to ban the dietary supplement.
It has been reported that five million people in the U.S. regularly use Kratom for chronic pain, opiate withdraw, depression and anxiety.
Every morning for the past two years or so there has been a steady stream of folks at the Oasis in Carr Mill Mall waiting for their Kratom infused coffee or tea.
The owner of the Oasis, Robert Roskind, started selling Kratom on the advice of his daughter.
“She said, ‘Dad, I just buried my fifth friend to drugs and alcohol.’ She said, ‘Offer them Kratom and you will help my generation get off of it.’ Kratom? I never heard of it.”
Kratom is a tropical evergreen tree and part of the coffee family found in Southeast Asia.
The leaves are picked from mature trees, dried, ground-up and shipped.
According to the FDA, Kratom is a dietary supplement – nothing more.
Roskind says it’s not that simple.
“I tried and liked it and two years ago, I started offering it and now it is a huge seller here and she is right. I see a lot of the young kids pulling back from opioid and heroin, alcohol and drugs and enjoying a rather benign plant,” he said.
One of those young people is recovering heroin addict Jeremiah Greason.
“I actually read about it on the internet. I was looking for something…I had just relapsed and had been dealing with it for a few months after years of being clean and was a little bit ashamed. The only person I had talked to about it was my wife and I was kind of looking for a way to mitigate the withdraws,” Greason said.
Greason says drug addiction is a cycle of sobriety and abuse. He has been clean for a while and credits Kratom from keeping him that way.
“For me, I have extreme highs and lows in my sober life so sometimes I get really low and having something like this that is safe that I can turn too just pick me up and make me feel good for the rest of that day, and the next day I wake up and it is a new day,” he said.
According to Roskin, Kratom has been used for hundreds of years in parts of southeast Asia to treat chronic pain, fatigue, depression, anxiety and opiate withdraw.
However, there is not a lot of mainstream research to back up those claims.
“So it is known as benign, it’s not. We don’t have the research done because it is a plant so the research is not available where no one has gone into Cambodia or Thailand or Borneo and researched it, but it has been used by those indigenous people safely,” Roskin said.
There is a difference in the types of Kratom on the market – the all-natural form found – and synthetic.
Dr. Philippe Bulauitan says more research is needed before recommending it to patients.
“But that is the issue. That is the problem. There is synthetic forms of it, what we are seeing is and what we will see in a lot of these toxicology reports is there is a mix with different opioids and that is the danger of it,” Bulauitan said. “When people are using these, especially at a younger age kids, teenagers, people in their 20s, we are finding they are mixing it with other medications, just like mixes with fentanyl, oxycodone, morphine and those sort of things so that is where it becomes extremely dangerous.”
Autopsy reports obtained by CBS 17 Investigates show there have been dozens of people who overdosed and died with Kratom or a synthetic form along with other substances in their system.
The most recent warning from the FDA came in February and reads:
“Taken in total, the scientific evidence we’ve evaluated about Kratom provides a clear picture of the biologic effect of this substance.
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.
Further, 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.”
Roskin says he has several customers, including doctors that have replaced prescription pain medication with Kratom.
“I have people come in here in severe pain, hemophiliacs, sciatica, arthritis who are not using opioids, they are using Aleve it doesn’t work, they are now pain free drinking two or three glasses of this plant a day,” Roskin said.
Five states have banned the sale and possession of it. North Carolina has not.
The FDA posted a stern warning about the safety of Kratom on their website, saying Kratom should not be used to treat medical conditions, nor should it be used as an alternative to prescription opioids.
The last time the federal government attempted to remove Kratom from the market, there was a huge outcry from the millions of Kratom users that claim to have found relief for chronic pain from opiates and opiate withdraw.