FDA's Anti-Kratom Campaign Continues With New Warning

By Victoria Kim 11/17/17

The FDA is "troubled" that people are using kratom to treat opioid addiction withdrawal.

 FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb released the statement about kratom this week. Photo via YouTube

The federal government hasn’t backed off its anti-kratom campaign. One year after the federal government failed to ban the plant, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has re-emerged to issue a public health advisory about kratom.

In a statement by FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb issued on Tuesday (Nov 14), the agency warns that kratom may exacerbate the opioid crisis, discrediting a large number of Americans who claim that kratom is a beneficial treatment for withdrawing from opioids, as well as for chronic pain, anxiety and depression. 

Kratom is a tropical evergreen of the coffee family native to Southeast Asia. Its proponents say that it’s far from dangerous, but rather improves quality of life in a way that prescription medication cannot. 

One disabled military veteran, Andrew Turner, who regularly posts YouTube videos about kratom, says it relieved his anxiety and movement disorder, giving him renewed hope and improving his well-being and “overall sense and quality of life.”

“My life as I knew it was pretty much over,” he says in his latest video “Hey Director Gottlieb, I Take Kratom.” “This was just a few years ago. In that timeframe, I found a plant that has benefited me greatly.” 

The FDA cites 36 deaths associated with the use of kratom, in addition to “hundreds of calls made each year” to poison control centers about kratom. The agency says these calls have increased 10-fold from 2010 to 2015.

Kratom is currently not regulated by the federal government, though some states (Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Tennessee and Wisconsin) have decided to ban the herbal drug. Around this time last year, the DEA tried and failed to ban kratom, the result of a huge backlash from the kratom community. 

Advocates are already hitting back after the FDA's latest statement. The American Kratom Association has petitioned the FDA to “review and correct” its public health advisory, accusing the agency of dispensing “discredited, incomplete, and mischaracterized scientific claims” about kratom.

The FDA’s biggest contention, it seems, is the “public’s perception that [kratom] can be a safe alternative to prescription opioids.” 

“At a time when we have hit a critical point in the opioid epidemic, the increasing use of kratom as an alternative or adjunct to opioid use is extremely concerning,” Commissioner Gottlieb writes—going so far as to suggest that kratom may “expand the opioid epidemic.”

While Gottlieb does acknowledge that kratom may have medical value, he is unwilling to change his stance without a scientific review of the risks and benefits of the herbal drug. “While we remain open to the potential medical uses of kratom, those uses must be backed by sound-science and weighed appropriately against the potential for abuse,” writes Gottlieb.

But for those who rely on kratom to live a normal life despite their disabilities, the Commissioner’s statement is a slap in the face, and a threat to their well-being.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr