Addictive drug or alternative to break the habit? Doctors dispute FDA about effects of Kratom

Is it an addictive drug, or a way to actually overcome addiction? The FDA is considering regulating an herbal drug called Kratom. But a group of doctors is pushing back, saying it's part of the solution not part of the problem. 

They may be color coded, but for Catherine Nieves, the liquid she's pouring in her cups are more than trendy new drinks. She says what's inside them, changed her life.

"I was homeless and a drug addict who lost custody of my oldest child," Nieves says.

Nieves owns a store and prepares drinks made with Kratom, a coffee-like herb. After a C-section a few years back, she started taking Kratom for pain, instead of the addictive opioid Percocet her doctor prescribed.

"It made the pain just as manageable," Nieves says. "But it was healthier for me mentally just to not get back in the habit with pills when it was something that I was already very sensitive to.

But the FDA describes Kratom differently, calling it dangerously addictive, and similar to narcotics like opioids with respect to addiction and death.

"Yes they interact similar with opioid receptors in the body but the effects are very different," says Oliver Grundmann Ph.D. with the University of Florida.

Dr. Grundmann is one of several doctors publicly rejecting the FDA's position on Kratom. He says it doesn't impact breathing the way opioids do, so that lessens the chance of an overdose. And he says the FDA is wrong to link it to 44 deaths in the last decade.

"So we are not saying that Kratom doesn't have potential adverse effects," Dr. Grundmann says. "But is it positively linked to these deaths? We don't think so."

Grundmann believes it should be regulated by the FDA but not as a narcotic.

"What is at the heart of all of this is we want to consumers to be protected and we want them to have quality products," Grundmann.

"I have children I have a great life that I've made for myself it's just entirely too much to possibly jeopardize," Nieves says.

Nieves wants people who are in her situation to see a safer way out.

Nieves says, "It seems like a bottomless hole, addiction. But there is so much hope and Kratom gives people hope."

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