The sale of an unregulated herbal supplement across the U.S. has prompted a warning from the Nebraska Poison Center on its use and abuse.
Kratom is a tropical tree native to Southeast Asia. The leaves contain various compounds that can cause poisoning when smoked or ingested, according to the poison center.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also posted a notice on its website warning consumers not to use kratom since it affects the same opioid brain receptors as morphine and appears to have properties that expose users to the risks of addiction, abuse and dependence.
In the North Platte area, there are no specific statistics of use available, but the dangers are serious, West Central District Health Department Executive Director Shannon Vanderheiden said.
“It is important to recognize kratom is not regulated by the FDA. Products are not monitored for safety and can be laced with other substances.” Vanderheiden said. “Just because it says kratom does not mean it isn’t laced with something or that there’s not other substances in that product.”
Local businesses were contacted after a Google search listed them as possible vendors of kratom. An employee at Smoker Friendly, 825 S. Jeffers St., referred the Telegraph to its corporate office but said the store does sell the supplement. Several attempts to reach someone at the corporate offices were unsuccessful.
The Google search indicated that three other local businesses offer kratom, but an employee at one, Tobacco Road, said it is not sold there because it is not FDA-regulated. The other two businesses did not answer phone calls.
Nationally, from July 2016 to December 2017, 152 people who died from overdose tested positive for kratom on postmortem toxicology, according to the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the Centers for Disease Control. That study recorded data on 27,238 overdose deaths in 27 states.
“I would like to investigate/understand more on the impact kratom can have and the significance of 91 of the 152 cases being linked to kratom as the cause of death,” Vanderheiden said.
Co-occurring substances were listed as well in those cases, such as fentanyl, heroin, benzodiazepines, prescription opioids, cocaine, alcohol and methamphetamine.
“In seven of the cases, the CDC report said kratom alone was the cause of death,” Vanderheiden said, “although the report indicated other substances could not be ruled out in those particular cases.”
Despite the lack of statistics on kratom use in the local area, Vanderheiden said it is important to bring awareness to others.
“We know that we have drug misuse in our area, and educating on the dangers of drug use does not prompt drug use,” Vanderheiden said.
Vanderheiden said a Connecticut physician spoke about kratom at a Health Center Association of Nebraska opioid workshop in Grand Island on July 25.
“He was sharing that people actually are having to seek treatment just as you would for opioid addiction,” Vanderheiden said.
The Nebraska Regional Poison Center can be reached at 1-800-222-1222 or at nebraskapoison.com for more information or help.