WKYT Investigates | Is kratom a 'lifesaver' or another deadly drug?

Photo: WKYT
Published: Feb. 26, 2018 at 5:16 PM EST
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Despite being declared an addictive opioid and warnings about a link to a salmonella outbreak, the popular botanical drug kratom keeps gaining in popularity in Kentucky.

"As long as I can manage it without prescription pain medicine, I want to give it a try," said Rebecca Patrick-Howard about why she decided to start drinking kratom mixed with water.

Patrick-Howard is battling Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a connective tissue disorder.

"For someone with my condition the average lifespan is 42," Patrick-Howard said. "Because your entire body is made up of connective tissues, it affects everything from the head to the toe. It causes organ ruptures. It's like your whole body has been hit with a hammer."

Her pain management started with natural remedies several years ago.. As the pain increased, Patrick-Howard moved to prescription medications and then to an opioid.

"I was eventually put on Oxycodone, and it worked great for about two years. It was the best quality of life I'd had in a very long time and then it stopped," Patrick-Howard said. "There is a time when I'm thinking I may not get up. This may be as good as it gets?"

That's when Patrick-Howard stumbled across kratom, an herb from a southeast Asian tree, online. Advocates say it offers help from heroin addictions, anxiety, depression, and pain relief.

At this point, Patrick-Howard's pain was so intense she says her husband had to help dress her and she spent most days in bed.

While Patrick-Howard swears by kratom, federal health officials say it's deadly and dangerous.

  • In 2016, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency tried to make kratom advocated to make it a schedule 1 controlled substance making it as illegal as heroin.
  • On February 6, the Food and Drug Administration published an analysis saying kratom contains the same chemicals found in opioids, the addictive family of drugs at the center of a national addiction crisis. 
  • On February 20, the Centers for Disease Control, regulatory officials in several states, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned they're investigating a multistate outbreak of Salmonella infections possibility linked to kratom.  
  • On February 23, the FDA released new numbers saying 44 deaths in the United States are tried to the use of kratom.
  • "Kratom has definitely given me a quality of life that makes my life worth living," Patrick-Howard said hoping the FDA won't ban kratom. "In order for me to have any quality of life, I'd have to go back on prescriptions. I want to have a life."