FDA chief warns about kratom to treat opioid addiction

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According to Bloomberg Businessweek, the American Kratom Association-yes, it exists-has lobbied to have kratom recognized as "a safe alternative to legal and illegal opioids".

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a public advisory Tuesday about the herbal supplement kratom. "It's probably easier to "do it yourself" with kratom ordered over the internet than find - if it's available - and pay for FDA approved, doctor supervised treatment".

"Importantly, evidence shows that kratom has similar effects to narcotics like opioids, and carries similar risks of abuse, addiction and, in some cases, death", Gottlieb said. "Calls to USA poison control centers regarding kratom have increased 10-fold from 2010 to 2015, with hundreds of calls made each year", said FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb in a statement. Others use kratom for its euphoric effects, or to wean addicts off opioids such as prescription painkillers or heroin, also without medical say-so. "The FDA is aware of reports of 36 deaths associated with the use of kratom-containing products", said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, in a statement. Gottlieb says the FDA plans to work with the DEA to determine how kratom should be classified. But the DEA almost made kratom a Schedule 1 drug, the same as heroin and marijuana, last year, and the FDA is now trying to stop shipments of kratom from entering the U.S. while it works on increasing regulatory oversight.

Supporters of kratom use have been fighting to keep it legal for years.

The United States is in the grip of an opioid epidemic.

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For now, the FDA treats kratom as an unapproved drug, and the agency has taken action against dietary substances that have it. The agency has also identified kratom products on 2 import alerts, and is actively working to prevent shipments of kratom from entering the US. The agency has already detained hundreds of packages at worldwide mail facilities.

Meanwhile, a similarly troubling trend has been seen with kratom.

"While we remain open to the potential medicinal uses of kratom, those uses must be backed by sound science and weighed appropriately against the potential for abuse", Gottlieb wrote.

"They must be put through a proper evaluative process that involves the DEA and the FDA".

Online sellers of kratom who were contacted by NBC News did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

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