After FDA warning, Georgia medical examiner says kratom kills

Days after the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning about an herbal supplement, the state chief medical examiner says kratom is killing people in Georgia.

Kratom is a tropical evergreen tree in the coffee family and is native to Southeast Asia.

Though it has been used in traditional medicine since the 19th Century, Kratom has become more controversial since case reports have associated exposure to the plant with psychosis, seizures and deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The number of calls to poison control increased tenfold from 26 in 2010 to 263 in 2015, the CDC reported.

While the supplement is not a narcotic, kratom is marketed to treat pain and affects the same receptors in the brain as opioids, Dr. Jonathan Eisenstat, the GBI's chief state medical examiner, told Channel 2 Action News.

He said kratom contributed to five deaths in 2016, when the Drug Enforcement Administration moved to make kratom illegal. After a public outcry, the DEA withdrew its attempt to classify kratom as a schedule I drug.

Kratom in its various forms. Credit: Channel 2 Action News)

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Eisenstat said of the 11 kratom-related deaths in 2017, kratom was the sole drug that caused the death in two cases, Channel 2 reported. It was found with one or more drugs in the rest of the deaths. He said in the five 2016 deaths, it was the sole drug in one case.

"In November of 2016, we added that to our list of possible drugs in our toxicology screens," Eisenstat said.

While officials are overwhelmed by the opioid crisis, proponents of kratom say its effects help keep them away from more potent and addictive painkillers.

"It doesn't have a high feeling,” Kym Byrom told Channel 2. “It does have a mood enhancer. It makes you want to get up and do.”

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