Compounds in Herbal Supplement Kratom Are Opioids, FDA Says

CNN reports that the FDA has released a new set of warnings about kratom, a natural pain reliever that is also used to treat opioid addiction. FDA commissioner Scott Gottleib’s public statement on Tuesday compared the compounds found in kratom to opioids and declared it had no known medicinal uses.

Kratom has been in the FDA’s crosshairs before. In August 2016, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued a notice saying it was planning to ban kratom and list it as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. However, following massive outrage from kratom users who say opioids are their only alternative, the agency reversed its decision.

Kratom is a plant native to Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, which has become popular as an opioid alternative in the U.S. Leaves from the kratom tree have been used for pain relief for hundreds of years, but scientists now know they contain compounds that target the brain similarly to opioids, helping to relieve pain.

Unlike opioid drugs, however, which can cause slowed breathing, or respiratory depression that’s deadly (respiratory depression is the leading cause of opioid overdose deaths), kratom does not appear to cause this effect.

While targeting kratom, the FDA continues to protect opioids and was instrumental in facilitating the opioid crisis to begin with. It wasn’t long ago — during the 1980s and 1990s — that many prominent physicians and health organizations urged the use of opioids for chronic, noncancer pain, even going so far as to state that the risk of misuse and addiction was low.

The opioid epidemic may be a national emergency, but there are parties who have benefited. The Sackler family, owners of Purdue Pharma, have an estimated worth of about $14 billion. While well-known for their philanthropic pursuits, the Sacklers have been careful not to associate the family name with Purdue Pharma or OxyContin.

If you are looking for safer options for pain relief than opioid drugs, please review the options outlined in my feature on treating pain without drugs.

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