AUSTIN (KXAN) — U.S. Marshals have seized thousands of bottles of dietary supplements containing kratom, a plant with opioid-like effects currently legal and available in the Austin area, according to a FDA news release Wednesday.
Federal agents seized 90,000 bottles of dietary supplements called RelaKzpro, which is noted to contain kratom, in Illinois from Dordoniz Natural Products LLC. The confiscated products are worth more than $400,000, according to the FDA.
Kratom comes from the leaves of a Southeast Asian tree. It is prevalent in Thailand, where it is illegal. The substance is sold online, and in Austin smoke shops, among other locations. Advocates of kratom, which can come in powder and pill form, say it alleviates pain and can help with opiate withdrawal symptoms.
Jane Maxwell, a research professor at the Addiction Research Institute at the University of Texas at Austin, said the impact and presence of kratom in Texas, and throughout the nation, appears minimal.
“The only times I really hear about it there will occasionally be people using kratom to detox from heroin, and they end up in the emergency room, and the doctor doesn’t know what it is,” Maxwell said. “It’s pretty minor.”
Maxwell said the drug is seldom reported in the National Forensic Laboratory Information System, which is a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration database that collects drug identification results from forensic labs throughout the country. The drug database shows kratom was reported 173 times in 2013 and 137 times in 2014—a fraction of one percent of the drugs reported in those years, she said.
The FDA is warning consumers not to use products containing kratom, according to its website. The agency also put an import alert on kratom products Dec. 21.
Melinda Plaisier, associate commissioner for regulatory affairs with the FDA, said in a statement: “We have identified kratom as a botanical substance that could pose a risk to public health and have the potential for abuse.”
But advocates of kratom, such as Susan Ash, say the substance is being maligned, it can be beneficial and it should not be banned. Ash directs the American Kratom Organization, a nonprofit composed of kratom consumers, she said.
Ash said kratom “has been a life changer” for her. Kratom helped her with chronic pain and managing withdrawal symptoms associated with prescribed pain medication she took for late-stage Lyme disease, she said.
“It does not give you this high that people talk about,” Ash said. “It is not the kind of thing that you take and instantly feel like you’ve taken a narcotic.”
Unfortunately, Ash said, some people may be taking kratom irresponsibly, and some unscrupulous manufactures could be adding synthetic substances to kratom, which could be dangerous.
Ash has been pushing back against a Jan. 2 story in The New York Times that detailed Florida heroin addict’s ill-fated attempt to use kratom as a heroin withdrawal crutch before becoming addicted to it and eventually relapsing into heroin use.
Ash said it is always dangerous for an addict to replace one addiction with another, and kratom can be mildly addictive, like coffee. The drug should be available for adults to use responsibly, she added.