PITTSBURGH — Kratom, a controversial drug that doctors say has the same chemical makeup as heroin and oxycodone, is legal and sold in Pennsylvania.
One mother told Channel 11 News that Kratom led to her son’s death.
"He wrote in it, ‘Mom and dad, I loved you very much. Please know there is nothing you can do, but I have ruined myself with drugs,’” Lauren Eden said, referring to her son’s suicide note.
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John Eden, a 22-year-old college student studying military intelligence, took his own life at a gas station. His final letter, a teddy bear and boxes of Kratom – all found in John Eden’s apartment, are all his mother had left.
“It (Kratom) is not safe, and it is highly addictive,” Lauren Eden said.
Kratom is a plant found in Southeast Asia. Experts say it’s been used for hundreds of years.
In the United States, it’s gone unregulated by the Federal Drug Administration, a red flag for doctors, who say the drug is in the country because of a loophole.
“Because it’s a supplement, it doesn’t fall under the FDA ability to regulate. It’s not listed in the federal Controlled Substances Act,” Dr. Arvind Venkat, with emergency management at Allegheny General Hospital, said.
Venkat said there have been medical reports, suggesting that people are taking Kratom to help wean them off of other drugs, including heroin, which is a documented problem in western Pennsylvania.
However, Venkat said there’s not enough evidence to suggest that Kratom can help, and said it could do more harm than good.
“Reports that suggest it’s not as potent as heroin or Vicodin, but there are also about tremendous side effects, including seizures,” he said.
Channel 11 News learned that the FDA has ordered customs agents to confiscate the drug because of the potential for harm, but across the country, Kratom remains legal except in four states: Wisconsin, Vermont, Tennessee and Indiana.
In Pennsylvania, the drug can be found for sale online and in supplement stores.
Some are fighting to keep Kratom on store shelves.
“There are people using it for everything from pain management, depression, anxiety and even help with addiction issues,” American Kratom Association Director Susan Ash said.
Ash travels state-to-state, speaking to lawmakers about the benefits of Kratom and to keep the drug legal. She said Kratom helped her battle the effects of Lyme disease.
“I never really cured it, never got rid of the pain and fatigue, and Kratom has been my cure,” Ash said.
Representatives with Pennsylvania State Sen. Gene Yaw told Channel 11 News that there are no current bills in the works to ban Kratom.