The life-and-death fight over pain reliever kratom


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The agency that enforces the nation’s drug laws will soon decide the fate of kratom, a southeast Asian plant that’s gaining popularity in West Michigan as a pain reliever.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration told 24 Hour News 8 it will “soon determine whether to place kratom under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. Schedule I drugs, like heroin and LSD, have no medically accepted use and high potential for abuse.

"I honestly don’t know what I’ll do if it’s made illegal," Amber Hitsman told Target 8 from the living room of her Spring Lake home.

Hitsman, 30, has been taking kratom for a year and a half to relieve severe back pain caused by a degenerative disc disease.

"For me, it worked right away, the first time I took it. It was amazing. I didn't feel the pain. It doesn't make you feel like you do when you’re on traditional opiates," she said.

Hitsman, who beat an addiction to the opioid Norco twice in her 20s, discovered kratom while searching for a natural pain reliever.

"My back was bad. I was in a bad place, and I could feel the third relapse coming on. I just googled natural pain alternatives," she said. "At that time, I was only using cannabis and it just wasn't cutting it."

The American Kratom Association says kratom has helped millions of Americans manage their overall health and well-being. Part of the coffee family, it can produce a mild euphoric or stimulant effect. It’s used to ease anxiety, depression and pain, and it comes in multiple forms, including capsules, tea and powder.


Kratom is relatively inexpensive and easily bought online, in smokes shops and some gas stations.

"If they ban it, they’re going to see more deaths," Hitsman said. "More deaths from opiates, more deaths from illegal substances, people not being able to work who work now thanks to Kratom."

But according to public health leaders, the supplement that advocates call lifesaving can also be deadly.

In November 2017, the Food and Drug Administration issued a public health advisory related to the FDA’s "mounting concerns regarding risks associated with the use of Kratom."

"Evidence shows that kratom has similar effects to narcotics like opioids, and carries similar risks of abuse, addiction and in some cases, death," the advisory read in part. "Thus, it’s not surprising that often kratom is taken recreationally by users for its euphoric effects. 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."

This week, an FDA spokesperson told Target 8 the agency has identified 47 deaths nationwide that "may be kratom-related."

In Kent County, longtime medical examiner Dr. Stephen Cohle has reported five overdose deaths tied to kratom since December 2017.

Full Story: WOODTV


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