Local doctor, CDC warn of potential dangers of kratom


CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — Whether it’s a wonder supplement or a dangerous drug, the controversy continues to swirl around the substance known as kratom.

The Centers for Disease Control has linked kratom to more than 150 deaths but kratom supporters swear by it. They say it helps them when nothing else would.

People who use kratom say it helps them with stress, anxiety and opioid withdrawal. But doctors, including the head of the emergency department at Chesapeake Regional Medical Center, say they don’t know what they’re getting.

“The research really hasn’t supported (users’ claims), and I think we have a lot to learn,” said Dr. Ben Fickenscher in a Friday interview.

“A lot of people assume that because this is a substance found in a plant, found in nature, that somehow it’s natural and therefore safe.”

Kratom comes as a shot, as a loose powder, or in capsules. It’s legal in Virginia.

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control has linked kratom to more than 150 deaths out of a sample of more than 27,000. While that’s less than one percent, Fickenscher says users still need to beware.

“People are using this recreationally, they’re mixing it with other substances of abuse, and it’s a dangerous cocktail.”

The American Kratom Association (AKA) represents kratom users.
It says a ban on kratom would force current users to consider more dangerous and addictive opioids.

The AKA also says the FDA uses inaccurate data on kratom-associated deaths. Local smoke shops tell us their customers use kratom because they don’t like how opioids make them feel.

But Fickenscher says they don’t really know what they’re using.

“What is the strength? There’s really no regulated way to know what people are getting.”

The AKA also mentions the Kratom Consumer Protection Act presently enacted in Utah and Georgia which regulates purity and labeling in those states. The AKA wants Congress to consider making it federal law.

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