Kratom Users Defend Its Use as Safe Alternative to Opioids

North Texans use herbal supplement kratom for pain relief, as the FDA declares it an opioid

The government says it's dangerous, but people who use the herbal supplement called kratom say it's drastically improved their lives.

On Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration declared kratom to be an opioid, saying it's not safe for medical use.

Users, like Jane Hepner, fear what will happen if it becomes illegal.

Hepner, 57, says she had to rely on 18 pain pills a day to help her cope with fibromyalgia, but last year, she discovered kratom.

"I have good days, I have bad days, but now I don't have painful days," Hepner said.

Kratom comes from the leaf of a plant grown in Asia, where it's been used for years as a mild stimulant.

It's sold on the internet and at smoke shops around DFW.

Hepner says she had never heard of it until she moved to Irving from near Houston and couldn't find a doctor able to prescribe the opioids she relied on.

"I knew it would be hard to find a pain management doctor, but I didn't know it was going to be next to impossible, so a couple of friends told me about kratom," Hepner said. "It makes me feel wonderful. I have little to no pain days, mood is elevated, takes care of anxiety."

New research shows kratom acts in the brain just as opioids do, FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said in a statement.

He said the agency has documented 44 instances in which kratom was involved in someone's death.

"Kratom should not be used to treat medical conditions, nor should it be used as an alternative to prescription opioids. There is no evidence to indicate that kratom is safe or effective for any medical use," Gottlieb said.

Last November, the FDA cautioned people not to use kratom.

Supporters of kratom use have been fighting to keep it legal for years.

The Drug Enforcement Administration temporarily listed kratom as a Schedule 1 controlled substance last August, but withdrew the decision after an outcry and a targeted petition effort, according to NBC News.

To make kratom illegal would be a grave mistake, according to Hepner.

"I would have no life, no quality of life. It's right there with a death sentence," she said.

According to Texas Health and Human Services, 97 calls for adverse reactions to kratom were made poison control from 2009 to 2017.

It's not clear whether any deaths in Texas have been associated to kratom.

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