A Tampa Bay Times investigation found that more than 580 people in Florida have died from kratom-related overdoses during the past decade — even as the industry has touted the safety of its products. Most of the deaths were caused by a fatal mixture of kratom and at least one other substance, but 46 people overdosed solely on the herb.
The Times’ review of kratom’s toll is the first of its kind by a news organization in Florida. Reporters analyzed thousands of pages of autopsy and toxicology reports, police documents and company records. They interviewed over 150 scientists, doctors, policy experts, regulators, industry players, consumers and relatives of overdose victims. Reporters also had 20 kratom products tested by researchers.
Among the findings:
Companies sell kratom without dosing instructions, a list of ingredients or, sometimes, any label at all — leaving customers to determine product safety on their own. Vendors often brag about the strength of their kratom, marketing powders and liquid shots as “powerful,” “most potent” and “long-lasting.” Yet the majority of products tested by the Times failed to disclose their intensity on labels. One packet of pills was so enhanced a scientist compared it to “legal morphine.”
At least a fifth of those who overdosed solely on kratom used products manufactured to be more concentrated than traditional, fresh leaf forms of the herb. A 39-year-old mother had an alarming level of kratom’s main ingredient in her blood when she was found lying dead next to her baby on the living room floor. Police discovered at least three pouches of kratom powder inside her Palm Beach County home.
Nine in 10 people who died had a substance in their system that could be harmful when mixed with kratom, including common medications used to treat anxiety or depression. Makers of prescription and over-the-counter drugs must notify consumers about the potential danger of combining their products with other substances. The kratom industry doesn’t have to issue such warnings.
Kratom companies and lobbyists sell the plant as a safe way to escape opioid addiction, but people with a documented history of drug use accounted for the majority of kratom-only overdoses. More than half of them had misused opioids like oxycodone or heroin. After a car crash shattered his spine, a Port Richey man got hooked on prescription painkillers, then overdosed on kratom while trying to wean himself off hard drugs.
For years, the American Kratom Association, which is the most influential kratom lobbying and advocacy group in the world, has told the public and legislatures across the country that the herb cannot be fatal, unless it’s contaminated or laced with drugs like fentanyl.