Citing 36 deaths, the Food and Drug Administration chief warned  consumers Tuesday not to use the herbal supplement kratom to ease opioid withdrawal and announce plans to step its regulatory oversight to combat the opioid epidemic. 

The FDA public health advisory on kratom follows the Drug Enforcement Administration’s reversal or at least delay of plans to classify kratom as a controlled substance on the same level as heroin and LSD.

FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb says the FDA plans to work with the DEA to determine how kratom should be classified. 

Kratom, a plant grown naturally in countries including Thailand and Malaysia, is widely sold in smoke shops and other locations as a powder that can be used in tea to slow the effects of opioid withdrawal. But it has addictive properties of its own, FDA says. public health advisory related to the FDA’s mounting concerns regarding risks associated with the use of kratom. 

The FDA says kratom carries similar risks of abuse, addiction and in some cases, death, as opioids. It is also often used recreationally for its euphoric effects. 

Along with opioid withdrawal, kratom is also believed to relieve fatigue, pain, cough and diarrhea. Anita Gupta, an osteopathic anesthesiologist and licensed pharmacist, has expressed concern about an increase in the use of kratom among her chronic pain patients. 

Kratom users and advocates were “dismayed to learn of the DEA’s plan to classify kratom as a Schedule 1 substance – the same classification as LSD and heroin – despite anecdotal and scientific evidence indicating kratom could be an effective opioid alternative,” says Walter Prozialeck, chairman of the pharmacology department at Midwestern University Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine.
 
As an active “drug”, kratom certainly has potential for causing harmful effects and can,…