State officials raise health alarm over herb kratom
Believed to be involved in 5 deaths
LANSING — State health authorities report that four Michigan residents recently were struck by food poisoning when they consumed an herb that federal authorities are seeking to ban.
The herb, called kratom, is grown in Southeast Asia. Proponents say it offers relief from pain, depression and anxiety. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued several warning letters that no product containing it is safe and that there are no reliable scientific studies supporting medical claims.
The Michigan Emergency Medical Services Information System has recorded 39 incidents of illness caused by kratom between Jan. 1, 2017, and June 30, 2018. They involved 26 men and 13 women between the ages of 20 and 29.
Kratom is believed to be involved in five deaths in Kent County, said state Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge.
“Kratom products should be banned as they are hazardous to the public health safety, “ said Jones, who earlier tried to introduce a bill to outlaw the herb in Michigan.
Jones said he recently came to an agreement with the American Kratom Association, which is proposing three federal laws to control kratom.
The legislation would ban sales to people under the age of 18, ban mixing kratom products with other products and only allow it to be sold as it is extracted from the plants and not modified in labs.
“It is a good compromise, and I’ll take it for the safety of the people in Michigan against kratom products,” Jones said.
Meghan Swain, the executive director of the Michigan Association of Local Public Health, says people are starting to learn about kratom because of the link to salmonella bacteria that causes food poisoning.
“It’s new,” she said. “Public health seeks to prevent illness and death and in so doing, pays attention to threats to health and safety, and kratom seems to be an emergent threat to the broader population.”
In April, state health authorities said they were monitoring kratom salmonella cases.
“For kratom cases, we are relying on medical examiner studies and reports as well as the Poison Control Center reports,” said Lynn Sutfin, a public information officer with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. “We are not seeing a clear trend, however MDHHS is continuing to monitor for health issues caused by kratom.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that people should be made aware that kratom could be contaminated with salmonella. Contaminated products may still be available for purchase because the agency has not identified a single common source of the contamination.
Seven states have banned kratom. In September 2016, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration tried to ban the sale of it by classifying it as a Schedule 1 Drug — the same as LSD, heroin and ecstasy. The agency delayed the decision to give the public a chance to comment and has not moved forward on the proposal.