Kratom is a deadly opioid, not a safe alternative to opioids or an effective treatment for withdrawal, the Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday in its strongest warning yet against the herbal supplement. The agency said new data shows that the increasingly popular substance has "opioid properties" and has been linked to at least 44 deaths in the US, the Washington Post reports. "There is no evidence to indicate that kratom is safe or effective for any medical use," FDA Commissioner Scott Gottleib said in a statement. "And claiming that kratom is benign because it's 'just a plant' is shortsighted and dangerous," he added, noting that heroin is also derived from a plant. The FDA called kratom "extremely concerning" in November.
Kratom is an "opioid that's associated with novel risks because of the variability in how it’s being formulated, sold, and used recreationally," said Gottleib, urging people who have been told the substance can help with opioid addiction to seek help from a health care provider instead. The American Kratom Association accused the FDA of being biased and called its research, which found that 25 compounds in kratom behave like opioids, an "unprecedented abuse of science," NBC reports. Kratom, which has been used in Southeast Asia for centuries, is still legal, but FDA inspectors have been destroying shipments from overseas for months, reports the AP. (In 2016, the DEA backed off from plans to make kratom a Schedule 1 controlled substance.)