Kratom-Related Calls To Poison Centers Skyrocket

By Paul Gaita 02/26/19

The majority of the calls to poison centers about kratom were made by men over the age of 20. 

poison center receiving calls about kratom

As the debate continues to swirl over the potential health benefits as well as hazards of kratom use, researchers have found that calls to poison control centers in regard to the use of the herbal supplement have increased more than 50-fold in recent years.

Their findings show that kratom-related calls to poison control centers across the country rose from 13 in 2011 to 682 in 2017. Nearly 10% of those calls involved an individual who experienced life-threatening side effects, and 11 individuals who made calls later died—though the majority of these were reported to have taken another substance in addition to kratom.

The researchers concluded their report by requesting enhanced information about kratom and increased regulation by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on kratom products.  

The study, published in the journal Clinical Toxicology, sought to determine the number of calls to poison control centers that involved kratom, as well as demographic information of the callers. To find that information, researchers reviewed data on 1,800 calls from the National Poison Data System.

Though 2011 was designated as the beginning of the study period, 65% of the calls were received in 2016 and 2017, or the final two years of the study.

As Live Science noted, the majority of the cases (71%) involved men over the age of 20. Approximately 2.5% of the cases involved children under the age of 12 who were exposed to kratom, including seven newborns; five of that group reportedly experienced symptoms of withdrawal due to exposure in the womb, while another newborn received kratom through breastfeeding.

Approximately one-third of the cases required treatment at a health care facility, and as mentioned, nearly 10% reported life-threatening or disabling effects. The most commonly reported side effects were agitation, elevated heart rate and/or blood pressure, nausea and/or vomiting, and drowsiness or lethargy.

Those who took kratom with another drug were more than twice as likely to experience a more serious response than those who consumed kratom alone; of the 11 reported fatalities, nine were reported to have ingested other substances including alcohol, fentanyl, cocaine and benzodiazepines.

Kratom use has increased in recent years due to the widespread belief in its healing properties. According to the American Kratom Association, between 3 and 5 million people in the United States use it for various reasons.

Herbal supplements made from the plant, which can be found in Southeast Asia, have been used to treat chronic pain, depression and dependency on opioids or alcohol.

Proponents of kratom have found their support opposed by the FDA, which has not approved kratom for any medical use, and by the Department of Health and Human Services and Drug Enforcement Administration, which briefly attempted to ban the substance, though that pursuit was shut down by public outcry. 

The researchers offered a number of recommendations for future action regarding kratom. They advised the medical community to disseminate more information about the risks of kratom, especially for women during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

They also advised the FDA to increase regulation of kratom products.

"At a minimum, they should be free of potentially harmful ingredients, provide a uniform strength of active ingredients and have appropriate labeling," the researchers wrote in their study's conclusion.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.