Consumer Reports: Dangers of kratom supplements

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Consumer Reports looks at why government agencies are urging Americans to steer clear of this controversial herb. (WLS)

Millions of Americans have reportedly tried a supplement called Kratom to treat a number of problems from chronic pain to opioid withdrawal. But the FDA is now calling Kratom itself an opioid and warn it can be addictive and dangerous.

Consumer Reports looks at why government agencies are urging Americans to steer clear of this controversial herb.

For many years, the leaves of the Kratom tree have been used in Southeast Asia to treat aches and pains. Here in the US, it can be purchased in the form of a powder, pill or tea and it doesn't require a prescription. According to the American Kratom Association, there are 3 to 5 million people who've used it in the U.S. alone.

"The research that's been done indicates that people are using Kratom to help alleviate chronic pain to treat mood disorders like anxiety and depression and in some cases to help wean themselves off of opioids," said Jeneen Interlandi.

But the FDA says Kratom isn't just a plant, it's an opioid. And they warn it can be dangerous, even deadly, associating it with more than three dozen deaths. In addition, the CDC says it may be tied to a recent salmonella outbreak and at this point, they're recommending people not consume Kratom in any form. Consumer Reports also has concerns, because like any supplement, Kratom is not regulated.

"Any given Kratom product can be grossly mislabeled. It can be laced with other substances including illegal drugs and prescription medications and it can interact with other medications that you are taking in ways that are really dangerous," Interlandi said.

The Drug Enforcement Agency has listed Kratom as a "drug and chemical of concern" and at one point wanted to put it in the same category as heroin, LSD, and ecstasy, essentially banning it for consumers. But the American Kratom Association argues that making the substance illegal could drive more people to prescription painkillers or illegal drugs to treat their symptoms. The organization says they'll support appropriate FDA regulations to ensure the safety and purity of Kratom, but not a ban. The DEA is currently reviewing data and public comments.

"But it could be a few months to a few years before they render a decision. In the meantime, Consumer Reports really feels that given the lack of regulation, it's better for consumers to just avoid this product altogether," Interlandi said.

If you are in pain but looking to avoid prescription painkillers, Consumer Reports says there are a number of options you can consider, including over the counter drugs and alternative therapies like acupuncture. Talk with your doctor about which ones make the most sense for you.

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