BOSTON — The herb kratom has grown for centuries in Southeast Asia, but it’s growing in popularity in the U.S. according to addiction specialists who spoke with Boston 25 News.
When asked if he’s seeing more issues with kratom in our area lately, Casey Herlihy with Meta Addiction Treatment in North Reading said, “Absolutely. Because there’s such an abundance of it and it’s so prevalent and easily accessible. So you can go to any gas station and get it, any smoke shop and get it. You can order it off of Amazon.” He added, “Generally it’s the younger crowd that’s getting involved with it more.”
Erin Walsh echoed that concern. She’s the staff director in State Representative Daniel Hunt’s office. She drafted a bill to regulate kratom here in Massachusetts when she learned personally that it’s an issue here. She says her teenage brother shared that some of his friends were abusing the herb.
“My brother told me about his friends. He’s worried about them,” Walsh said. “Their whole personality has changed.”
Dr. Peter Chai, with emergency medicine and medical toxicology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, tells Boston 25 News kratom hits the same part of your brain as opioids like fentanyl and heroin.
“Essentially individuals, especially younger individuals, where using it, could be susceptible to developing opioid tolerance and opioid use disorder, which we know is a big issue that we’re grappling with here in Massachusetts,” Chai said.
Dr. Chai says kratom has not been fully studied from a medicinal perspective, so he recommends consulting a doctor before using it. Dr. Chai says he knows kratom has been used as an alternative to opioids for addicts trying to achieve sobriety.
Herlihy agreed that kratom is popular with people struggling with addiction. He told Boston 25 News he often hears of it being smuggled into halfway homes.
“Whether it’s marijuana, opiates, alcohol, anything, if you take it to the extreme and that’s your main focus, it can destroy everything around you,” Herlihy said.
When asked what happens if someone sells kratom to kids in Massachusetts, Walsh answered, “Currently, nothing. Nothing.”
Walsh says we have an age requirement for purchasing tobacco, for purchasing alcohol and renting hotel rooms and cars. The legislation she’s filed would require you to be 21 to purchase kratom. It would also require manufacturers to list the ingredients in kratom products. She says right now since the herb is not regulated by the FDA, there is no way of knowing what’s really in a product.
“It’s dangerous,” Walsh said. “It needs to be regulated. You need to know that what you’re consuming is safe.”
The American Kratom Association (AKA) says it supports the legislation in Massachusetts, and the organization is pushing for FDA regulation. The AKA says it wants kratom to be available to customers nationwide who use the herb to treat anxiety, depression, mood disorders, and other ailments.
In response to several wrongful death jury awards related to kratom in the last year. The AKA pointed to the lack of oversight on what is being put in products, not the herb itself in its natural form.
“Recent reports of product liability awards for irresponsibly manufactured or marketed kratom products are the direct result of the FDA’s failure to regulate the kratom marketplace and, in some cases, the exploitive behavior of trial attorneys who do nothing to compel the FDA to act responsibly,” said Mac Haddow, the AKA’s Senior Fellow on Public Policy.
Until the FDA implements a set of standards to protect consumers, the AKA advises kratom consumers not to purchase or consume kratom products that: a. Have not been certified by an independent third-party lab to be free of dangerous contaminants or that contain adulterants that could be dangerous to consume. b. Are offered for sale from a vendor that markets its product with illegal therapeutic claims. c. Do not contain the name of the product distributor so that a consumer can file an adverse event report if required. d. Are delivered in unprofessional packaging, such as zip-close bags, or that have handwritten product information.
“The safety and addiction profile of pure, unadulterated kratom is well-documented by science and there is no known level of kratom use that would cause any fatality unless it is irresponsibly consumed, adulterated with a toxic drug or used concurrently with a deadly drug substance,” Haddow said.
Casey Herlihy with Meta Addiction advised parents look for warning signs if they think a family member may have an abuse issue. He say if someone is being secretive or hiding something, you should overlook the behavior. If you find someone with a concerning substance and they refuse to relinquish it, no matter the consequences, it may be time to seek professional treatment help.
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