Fatal Overdoses of the Herbal Drug Kratom on the Rise

In a recent very surprising turn of events, an over-the-counter herbal drug Kratom has been linked to over 90 deaths. Between July 2016 and December 2017, 9 deaths have been reported as a result of Kratom overdose in the US. Health officials further found traces of Kratom in 152 postmortem toxicology reports. According to the Associated Press, only 44 deaths were known nationwide.



What is Kratom?

Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) originated from Southeast Asia countries; Malaysia and Thailand among others. It is naturally grown and has been used for centuries as a traditional herbal drug. It is now sold in form of capsules and powder to treat diarrhea, pain, fatigue, cough, and taken as a tea to ease opioid withdrawal systems.

In the USA, the supplement can be bought from a drug store, online, smoke shops, or gas stations. Use of Kratom has increased in popularity. Due to the increase in the number of users, the herbal supplement has garnered the FDA’s scrutiny.  FDA says that Kratom has similar traits as opioids in terms of addiction, risk of abuse, and excessive use leading to death.

FDA claims have been disputed by Kratom supporters led by the American Kratom Association. The supporters quoted the previous reports that suggest Kratom has low toxicity and the withdrawal is not as severe as in opioids. Kratom addiction and characteristics are closely compared to those of caffeine in coffee. Charles Haddow, public policy senior fellow said, “Follow the science. You will find that Kratom itself is safe”

Recent News

Kratom has recently made news after the CDC released a report linking the supplement to 91 deaths.  CDC found out that of the 27,338 unintentional overdoses only 152 had detectable Kratom and only 91 directly lead to death.  CDC says that other substances that tested positive cannot be ruled out.

the Central Ohio Poison Center during the February study discussion said, “the number of Kratom overdose deaths have spiked significantly.” He said the increase is as a result of greater use and increased dosage of the new mainstream substance. The general feeling that the substance is natural and safe may be the main cause of non-cautionary use. Nonetheless, there is a need to inform the population of potential risks of the supplement.

Kratom Users

According to the American Kratom Association, there are around 3-5 million Kratom users in the US. The February study revealed that most users are adult men. 89% of Kratom overdose cases were of male users between 20 and 71 years and an average age of 31. Out of the 1,807 users exposed to Kratom, 137 were teenagers between 13 and 19 years, while 48 were children aged 12 and below. In an unexpected turn, the study found that 7 cases were as a result of neonatal exposure. 32% of the cases in adults led to admission in a health care facility and 52% had a serious medical outcome.

Effects Of Kratom

Kratom works by interacting with opioids receptors in the brain and produces pleasure and sedation to ease the pain. Small doses have mild stimulation effects while high doses lead to opioid-like effects. According to the study, common clinical effects were; nausea, drowsiness, agitation, irritability, hypertension, and vomiting.

The study suggests that Kratom should be studied further to define human response to Kratom. FDA warns against its use because no evidence has indicated Kratom’s efficacy or safety for medical use.

Kratom Regulation

Kratom has been in the market for years now and has not been listed as a controlled substance. Years back, the Drug Enforcement Administration proposed that Kratom is categorized as a Schedule 1 drug. That would automatically ban the supplement just like heroin but they withdrew the proposal after backlash. FDA has not approved the use of Kratom for any medical use and the DEA listed it a drug of concern.


Rarely do natural supplement have opioid-like characteristics leading to death. However, Kratom has made the list and is facing stern control measures. However, it is feared that banning it would increase deaths because users may turn to more lethal substances.

Do you think banning Kratom will trigger the use of dangerous, more addictive drugs? Share your thoughts with us in the comments area bellow!




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