A Treatment for Opioids is Declared to Be an Opioid

I have blogged about the opioid epidemic.  Opioid pain relievers, which bind to receptors in the brain, have caused widespread addiction and deaths.  Now, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has declared that a popular herbal supplement – touted as an aid for opioid withdrawal – is itself an opioid.

Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) is an herb derived from the leaves of a coffee tree in Southeast Asia.  Kratom has been used in traditional Asian medicines for hundreds of years.  More recently, it has become popular in the U.S. and Europe for chronic pain – and as an aid for opioid withdrawal.


“Kratom should not be used to treat medical conditions, nor should it be used as an alternative to prescription opioids,” says FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D.  “There is no evidence to indicate that kratom is safe or effective for any medical use. And claiming that kratom is benign because it’s ‘just a plant’ is shortsighted and dangerous.”

A County Medical Examiner’s Office in Texas documented the case of a 17-year-old man who was found deceased in his bed.  The decedent had a history of chronic back pain that he self-medicated with Kratom.

A blood analysis using an Agilent LC showed a mitragynine level of 0.60 mg/L.  But because kratom was not regulated, the ME could not say whether that constituted a lethal dose.  His report listed the cause of death as “possible Kratom toxicity,” and the manner as “accidental.”

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