FDA Warns Herbal Pill Used For Treating Addiction Has Killed Dozens Of Patients

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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Federal health regulators are warning the public about an herbal supplement used to ease opioid withdrawals that is linked to dozens of deaths.

A public health advisory released Tuesday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says kratom, a powder made from a plant found in Thailand and Malaysia, carries its own addictive properties and severe risks. Kratom can be bought in smoke shops and is brewed into tea as a way to reduce withdrawal symptoms from opioids, but the FDA says there is no scientific evidence showing it is a safe and effective way to treat addiction, reports NPR.

Products containing kratom are also linked to at least 36 deaths in the U.S., according to data from the FDA.

“It’s very troubling to the FDA that patients believe they can use kratom to treat opioid withdrawal symptoms,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement Tuesday. “I understand that there’s a lot of interest in the possibility for kratom to be used as a potential therapy for a range of disorders. But the FDA has a science-based obligation that supersedes popular trends and relies on evidence.”

Officials at the FDA say calls to poison control centers related to kratom surged tenfold between 2010 and 2015. The substance, which the FDA warns has “similar effects to narcotics like opioids,” gives users a euphoric high that can lead to addiction. While users say it can treat a number of ailments including chronic pain and fatigue, it can also cause seizures and liver damage, reports New York Daily News.

FDA officials say roughly 340 million kratom shipments enter the U.S. each year and only a small fraction are being intercepted by federal drug authorities. Gottlieb petitioned Congress Tuesday to increase resources devoted to drug interdiction, including more agents at U.S. ports of entry and along the border.

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