FDA issues warnings to companies selling illegal, unapproved kratom drug products marketed for opioid cessation, pain treatment

Silver Sping, MD (STL.News) – The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued warning letters to two marketers and distributors of kratom products – Cali Botanicals of Folsom, California, and Kratom NC of Wilmington, North Carolina – for illegally selling unapproved, misbranded kratom-containing drug products with unproven claims about their ability to treat or cure opioid addiction and withdrawal symptoms.  The companies also make claims about treating pain, as well as other medical conditions like depression, anxiety and cancer.

“We have issued numerous warnings about the serious risks associated with the use of kratom, including warnings about the contamination of kratom products with high rates of salmonella that put people using kratom products at risk, and resulted in numerous illnesses and recalls.  As part of our efforts to assess kratom for contamination in the products tested, we also found high levels of heavy metals in kratom products.  Despite our warnings, companies continue to sell this dangerous product and make deceptive medical claims that are not backed by science or any reliable scientific evidence,” said Acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless, M.D.  “As we work to combat the opioid crisis, we cannot allow unscrupulous vendors to take advantage of consumers by selling products with unsubstantiated claims that they can treat opioid addiction or alleviate other medical conditions.”

The FDA continues to warn consumers not to use Mitragyna speciosa, commonly known as kratom, a plant that grows naturally in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.  Kratom is not legally marketed in the United States as a drug or dietary supplement, and while it is important to gather more evidence, data suggest that certain substances in kratom have opioid properties that expose users to the risks of addiction, abuse and dependence.  There are no FDA-approved uses for kratom, and the agency has received concerning reports about the safety of kratom.  The FDA is actively evaluating available scientific information on this issue and continues to warn consumers not to use any products labeled as containing the botanical substance kratom or its psychoactive compounds, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine.  The FDA encourages more research to better understand kratom’s safety profile, including the use of kratom combined with other drugs.

The companies receiving warning letters use websites and social media to illegally market kratom products, making unproven claims about the ability of the kratom drug products they distribute to cure, treat or prevent disease. Examples of claims being made by these companies include:

  • “Kratom acts as a μ-opioid receptor-like morphine.”
  • “In fact many people use kratom to overcome opiate addiction.”
  • “Of course, people who are using kratom to overcome a preexisting opiate addiction may need to use kratom daily to avoid opiate withdrawal.”
  • “Usage: It is for the management of chronic pain, as well as recreationally.”
  • “Kratom is frequently used as a natural alternative to treat depression, anxiety, addiction, diabetes, chronic pain and fatigue…Kratom has been reported to have taken the place of brand name drugs like Hydrocodone or Oxycodone for individuals, all the way to weaning people off of Heroin.”
  • “Some researchers have even claimed that kratom can protect you against cancer!”
  • “Kratom is used for energy, to increase attention/focus, to relax, and also to treat pain and addiction.  Here is just some of what our customers have used kratom to treat . . . Chronic Pain, Migraines, Opiate Addiction, ADHD/ADD, Anxiety, Depression, Arthritis, Insomnia and much more!”

Health fraud scams like these can pose serious health risks.  These products have not been demonstrated to be safe or effective for any use and may keep some patients from seeking appropriate, FDA-approved therapies.  Selling these unapproved products with claims that they can treat opioid addiction and withdrawal and other serious medical conditions is a violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

The FDA requested responses from both companies within 15 working days.  The companies are directed to inform the agency of the specific actions taken to address each of the agency’s concerns.  The warning letters also state that failure to correct violations may result in law enforcement action such as seizure or injunction.

Reducing the number of Americans who are addicted to opioids and cutting the rate of new addiction is one of the FDA’s highest priorities.  This work includes promoting more widespread innovation and access to opioid addiction treatments for the more than 2 million of Americans with an opioid use disorder.  The FDA is taking new steps to make safe and effective medication assisted treatments (MAT) available to those who suffer from opioid use disorder and to reduce the stigma that is sometimes associated with use of these therapies.  Using products with unsubstantiated claims may prevent those addicted to opioids from seeking treatments that have been demonstrated to be safe and effective.  Reliance on products with unsubstantiated claims may delay their path to recovery and put them at greater risk of addiction, overdose and death. In fact, patients receiving FDA-approved MAT cut their risk of death in half, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Health care professionals and consumers are encouraged to report any adverse events related to these products to the FDA’s MedWatch Adverse Event Reporting program.  To file a report, use the MedWatch Online Voluntary Reporting Form.  The completed form can be submitted online or via fax to 800-FDA-0178.

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