FDA warns that popular botanical substance could have same effects as opioids

OLYMPIA , Wash. -- A consumer alert says a dietary supplement growing in popularity is now linked to deaths.

U.S. Marshals, at the request of the FDA,  have begun seizing a plant-based substance called kratom.

Right now the product is not regulated, and the FDA says kratom could have the same effects as opioids. They are asking would-be buyers to stay away.

Kratom user Evelyn Sipila says the news is shocking. She credits kratom for raising her quality of life.

“I feel like it’s given me my life back; there were times I couldn’t get out of bed from chronic fatigue,” Sipila said.

She’s been taking four capsules every four hours for the past three years.

“The oxygen gets put back in my blood and I can function, I just feel alive, I don’t feel high,” Sipila said.

Right now you can get kratom at smoke shops and online. It comes from a plant that originates in Southeast Asia. It’s been around for centuries in those countries but in the Western world there is little known about kratom.

The FDA says people are using kratom to treat pain and depression. The agency says the botanical substance is now linked to 36 deaths so far. The effects are similar to opioids if taken in high doses.

“How many people have died and they had no idea it was kratom,” Yelm resident John Harden said.

Harden says kratom killed his wife Wendy who was trying to fight off an opioid addiction.

“I think she might have thought it was an alternative to get off of that other stuff,” Harden said.

After a surgery Harden says, his wife started injecting kratom.

“It was the cause of death, it was interfering with the metabolism of oxygen,” Harden said.

He’s speaking out so others are aware of the deadly consequences.

“Her life was worth more than that; the kids miss her, I miss her,” Harden said.

Harden says at the time he had no idea his wife was using kratom. Even if he did, he siad, he wouldn’t have realized the dangers.

“Even the nicest person, the straight A student, a former Marine, you know a wonderful can fall for this,” Harden said.

“I don’t want to be in denial of the possible effects of it,” Sipila said.

But Sipila says she is not abusing kratom nor does she believe she is addicted.

“I can only speak for what it has done for me,” Sipila said.

Sipila is hoping for more studies on kratom before any ban.

“That’s what’s sad about this to me, something that has been helping me tremendously, that it could be banned,” Sipila said.