VICE: New Report on Kratom Overdoses Is Scary But Misleading

The key point: “Almost all of those who tested positive for kratom also tested positive for other substances.”

Kratom has grown in popularity over the past few years, largely thanks to testimonials from people who say it has helped them quit opioids and manage chronic pain. But that popularity has brought negative attention from government authorities. In 2016, the U.S. D.E.A considered banning kratom, only to back down under public pressure. The FDA later targeted kratom distributors and released scientifically dubious reports linking kratom to overdose deaths.

On April 12 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report “to assess the impact of kratom.” The CDC drew on data from 27 states from July 2016 to December 2017—a collection of 27,338 drug-overdose deaths. Of those, 152 were positive for kratom on postmortem toxicology reports.

Walt Prozialeck, professor and chair of the department of pharmacology at the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine at Midwestern University, and an expert on kratom said this:

“I’m just dumbfounded that they keep doing the same thing,” he says. “Kratom showed up in some of these toxicology reports, and it’s being unofficially blamed as the cause of death, according to this report.”

He points out that almost all of those 152 who tested positive for kratom also tested positive for other substances; and that only 7 tested positive only for kratom.

Those other substances are important, Prozialeck says, because most of them are potentially lethal on their own. Fentanyl and fentanyl analogs, for example, appeared in 65.1% of the kratom-positive deaths. (Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid said to be more than 100 times more potent than heroin; in 2017, 28,000 deaths involving synthetic opioids occurred in the United States.)

Heroin was found in 32.9% of the kratom-positive cases; benzodiazepines, prescription opioids, and cocaine were also found.

“The fact that fentanyl was showing up in so many of these cases suggests to me that people are using street opioids in conjunction with kratom,” Prozialeck says. “I think the CDC might be overstating the cause-effect relationship between kratom and these reported deaths.”


When asked for comment, a rep from the CDC said, “Kratom was detected on post-mortem toxicology for 152 decedents. In about 60% of those deaths, the medical examiner or coroner determined that kratom contributed to the death. That said, 84 of the 91 decedents had other substances detected on post-mortem toxicology, and most of those 84 had fentanyl, heroin, benzodiazepines, or cocaine.”


As professor Prozialeck rightfully pointed out, the presence of other—potentially deadly—substances complicates the picture. Therefore, we shouldn’t simply assess the impact of kratom based on this type of data, as the CDC wants to do. Proper scientific research and studies should be done on kratom. Especially since tens of thousands of people currently depend on it for pain relief, many are normal people like you and I.

Disclaimer: This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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