WALB Investigates: The safety and accessibility of Kratom

Kratom is a supplement that can be found on shelves across south Georgia. But what is it?
WALB Investigates: The safety and accessibility of Kratom
Published: Dec. 16, 2022 at 9:31 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

ALBANY, Ga. (WALB) - Kratom is an unregulated and controversial drug that one Georgia family claims killed their son.

Eli Cohen is an attorney representing the family of 23-year-old Ethan Pope. Pope died one year ago from what his family believes was taking too much Kratom.

“The reality is that most people who take this are just playing Russian roulette with their lives, they don’t know how much of the active ingredients they’re taking. They don’t know how much of it is safe,” Cohen said. “And they don’t know if they’re going to wake up, you know, the next time they take it. And that’s what happened to Ethan. He never woke up.”

Here’s what we know. Kratom is a tropical tree native to Southeast Asia. Its effects depend on the dosage size. The DEA says low doses have stimulant effects, whereas high doses have sedative effects. It can also lead to psychotic symptoms. There are no FDA-approved uses of Kratom.

Kratom is a tropical tree native to Southeast Asia.
Kratom is a tropical tree native to Southeast Asia.

So, how’s it legal? It’s not currently under the Controlled Substances Act. Some states prohibit it, but here in Georgia, it’s still legal.

“Society just doesn’t have that information to know what’s safe. And, you know, it just shouldn’t be on the shelf until we have that kind of information,” Cohen said.

Sherry Summerland, co-owner of Bills Health, says she sells more Kratom than any other supplement combined.

She argues that it saves lives by helping manage opioid withdrawal symptoms and cravings.

“There’s been over a million deaths from opioids since 2000,” Summerland said. “And so we know it’s a safe alternative to some of the things that are out there. And so that’s why we’d like to help the community. We’ll give out free samples and let them try it and see for themselves.”

Cohen disagrees. He says since the law firm’s first news conference, at least a dozen families have reached out to tell them an unfortunate, similar story.

“The reality is, you can’t have it both ways,” Cohen said. “You can’t sell a product based on it’s been, you know, suppose it benefits health benefits and then refuse to be regulated by things like the FDA who were there to protect, you know, people like my client, Ethan, and the rest of the public.”

Whether it’s herbs, drugs, or supplements, WALB will keep working to find reliable and easy-to-understand information.

You can email tips to us at heidi.paxson@walb.com.