The opioid crisis in the U.S. continues to escalate as more people are using and overdosing on heroin and narcotic painkillers. Now, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning that there is another opioid on the market that could add to the epidemic. Known as kratom, this unregulated herbal medicine acts like an opioid. The FDA warns against using it and is now assisting with a recall and the destruction of several brands of kratom product.
What is Kratom?
Kratom is a natural, herbal product. It comes from a tree, Mitragyna speciose, that is native to countries in Southeast Asia. The leaves of the tree have long been used medicinally in traditional medicine. It has been used for pain relief, as a treatment for depression and anxiety, and depending on the dose, as either a stimulant or a sedative. Imported kratom has become increasingly popular as an herbal and alternative medicine in the U.S.
Kratom as an Opioid
In recent years the popularity of kratom in the U.S. has soared largely because people addicted to opioids are using it as an aid to quitting and managing withdrawal symptoms from heroin and similar substances. In November of 2017 the FDA announced that the results of studies have shown that kratom is actually an opioid. It contains substances that act on opioid receptors in the brain, just as heroin and prescription painkillers like morphine and oxycodone do.
The FDA announced that kratom is now considered an opioid and also warned that it could be harmful. While it may be useful in helping treat dependency on opioids, it is an unregulated substance. Most people who use it to help with addiction are doing so unsupervised and with a product that has not been well studied.
Recall of Kratom Products
In late February, the FDA took stronger actions against products with kratom. It announced that several brand name products were being voluntarily recalled and that the agency would be assisting with the recall and with the destruction of the recalled products. The products being recalled include the brand names Botany Bay, Enhance Your Life, and Divinity distributed by Divinity Products.
Divinity Products is voluntarily issuing the recall, but there are other companies that have not done so. The FDA now warns that there are still kratom products on the market and that the companies offering them should engage in the recall. If they do not, the FDA may decide to issue a mandatory recall of all kratom products.
The main issue behind the recall is the fact that kratom is known now to be an opioid, which means it is susceptible to abuse, addiction, and even overdose. The FDA further states that there is currently no evidence that kratom is safe or effective for any medical purpose, including treatment of opioid addiction. A secondary issue with kratom is that it was recently associated with an outbreak of a rare type of salmonella infection in 20 states. This highlights the risk of using products that are not subject to any rigorous manufacturing standards that would eliminate the risk of bacterial infections.