Kratom has a determined adversary in the mother of one 20-year-old who killed himself in July. She prefers to believe that Kratom killed her son, rather than the three prescription pharmaceuticals that were also in his system that sad day. The young man had a several year struggle with addiction to opioid drugs and was in and out of rehab several times, though his mother never talks about that.
It is very strange to blame an herb that is helping people get off of opioid drugs, when the boy's toxicology report showed two of the three prescription drugs he had in his system have suicide warnings on them.
It also seems unusual that the herb that as many as 2,000,000 Americans use regularly, has killed no-one else among the many who use it daily.
My estimate is probably quite conservative. But, if Kratom -- besides being used for centuries in Southeast Asia for relieving depression and improving people's mood -- is likely to cause people here to kill themselves, where are the other victims?
There Are Many Facts in this Case that Just Don't Add Up
A much smaller number of people use Kratom for its euphoric properties, which are fleeting and unpredictable.
There are several flaws in the boy's mother's argument, which we will discuss in this blog post. One thing is certain: Many people of all ages will be hurt, and some may choose to die rather than return to the addictive and debilitating pharmaceutical medications they have been glad to escape.
Nevertheless, this crusading mother cares nothing about the majority of Kratom users' pains -- for which modern medicine generally has little to offer but opioid painkillers, benzodiazepines, antidepressants and excuses why there are no cures for their conditions.
All her concern, she says, is for preventing another child or youth from killing themselves as her son did.
Only a tiny percentage of those who use Kratom are visible and recognizable to those outside the Kratom community. These are the kava bar patrons and the headshop customers who use Kratom and kava to help them get over their cravings for opioid drugs. Many of these folks are trying to recover from the prescription drug addiction epidemic caused by the deceptive marketing practices of companies like Purdue Pharmaceutical, which turned OxyContin on the world in 1995.
The invisible majority of Kratom users are quiet good citizens, ages 20-80, whom Kratom helps ease the pains of arthritis, fibromyalgia, and skeletal injuries. They are back to work, instead of moping around in an opioid and antidepressant-fueled haze. They've been down the pharmaceutical route -- and never want to go back!
The Victims of the Addiction Epidemic Are Blamed for Seeking a Way Out
There are drugs that doctors prescribe and we consider these "good drugs", even though they kill thousands of Americans every year -- even when they are "used as directed". Some shouldn't be used with other prescribed drugs, so people die. But that's okay, apparently.
It is "collateral damage". Nobody goes to jail. These are FDA-approved, so a certain amount of death is okay. Or so it seems.
And yet, perversely, this crusading mom blames Kratom for the death of her son.
We have a system of approving some substances for our consumption as medications for mental illness and emotional disturbances that have a track record of causing those who take them to become anxious, agitated, and have thoughts of committing suicide -- and yet, we are asked to ignore these facts and instead blame an unfamiliar herb with a much longer track record of success, both in terms of actual toxicity and side-effects.
This real, but nameless, victim was on three such pharmaceutical drugs when he died. Why are these drugs not considered when his Mom and her followers set off on their anti-Kratom crusade?
So far, the county officials who have heard this mother's sad plea have put off making a decision, until more information comes in. This is wise.
Here is a report by the Trans National Institute detailing their findings of the general safety of the traditional medical and social use of Kratom in Thailand.
Kratom is not FDA-approved, though its safety record in hundreds of years of widespread use as a folk medicine in Thailand is virtually spotless. Nobody has been killed. Nobody has ever been known to commit suicide -- quite the opposite, Kratom is a mood-lifter and has even shown some antidepressant ability in lab testing with mice.
This boy's Mom's claim that Kratom caused her child to jump off an overpass and die is the first puzzling claim that should be carefully questioned. It doesn't make sense, from the experience of all those who have used Kratom, even briefly.
And yet, based on this puzzling and unsubstantiated claim, two counties in Florida have been asked to ban the herb from sale, possession, or use in their jurisdictions.
Based on her claim that Kratom made her son jump to his death, she hopes to ban it in the state of Florida in the coming year. She is being taken seriously in this obsession by at least one new legislator, who no doubt will have the backing of the pharmaceutical companies.
Why are we being expected to disregard the "Black Box Warnings" on two of the prescription medications that this promising youth was under the influence of on the day he killed himself?
Instead of blaming the pharmaceutical companies that make these dreary poisons -- or the doctors who prescribed a combination of 3 drugs that obviously were not effectively controlling the young man's depression, the state of Florida will be asked to make the herb Kratom unavailable to all Florida residents and visitors who use it, both now and in the future.
Eventually, this distraught Mom would hope to take her sad story around the nation, hoping to persuade other states to take Kratom away from those who enjoy it, have benefited, and are harming no-one by this personal choice.
I congratulate the two Boards of Commissioners for adopting a wait-and-see approach, while moving to warn other young people of the unpleasant consequences that abuse of this herb poses. It would be helpful to put an 18-and-older limit on its purchase and possession.
If I could make a few suggestions to the committee in charge of this preventive education and harm reduction campaign the Palm Beach Board of Commissioners has chosen to fund, they would be these:
Kratom is nothing like the lurid descriptions the local television news coverage has made it out to be.
Kratom offers nothing like the effects of marijuana or any other of the "legal highs" that under-age people are seeking.
Taking large doses, hoping to find the elusive high the TV reporters imply it contains, will usually end with a sickening nausea, projectile vomiting, and a big headache.
Kratom is not well-suited to be a party drug.
A worthy project for Palm Beach County's educational outreach committee might be to ask your area TV stations to stop glamorizing Kratom and alerting youths of cocaine-like, hallucinatory, and heroin-like effects that are not to be found in Kratom.
The suicide victim's mother's grief must be intense. We are all saddened by the untimely death of her son.
(There is one more small fact that is never discussed in public. According to friends who knew the boy well -- and saw him before he killed himself -- he told his mother he was gay and she threw him out of their home the night before he committed suicide. If he wasn't on antidepressants, could he have shrugged off the loss and gone on with his life? We'll never know.)
Nevertheless, it would be more appropriate to place the majority of the blame where it belongs -- on Big Pharma's antidepressants -- than to deny Kratom to all those who need its pain relief, while more research is done to prove its safety and efficacy.
For more background, please visit my earlier article: