Space Dust Ruled Killer in Kratom Lawsuit
In April we told you about a class action kratom lawsuit that Romulo Torres had filed against Botanic Tonics, the manufacturer of Feel Free Wellness Tonic. Torres insists the company’s kava drink is anything but a “safe, sober and healthy alternative to alcohol”. In fact, the recovering alcoholic claims drinking Feel Free effectively ended his long-term sobriety. It also left him suffering from withdrawal symptoms so acute he repeatedly had to be hospitalized.
Heck, the way Torres and his attorney Shounak Dharap made the case, kratom may be even worse than alcohol. Some folks say that’s because kratom continues to have little state or federal oversight. The lawsuit however seems to indicate the danger has more to do with how Botanic Tonics is able to exploit that lack.
Whatever the cause, the lawsuit notes that even the FDA admits that kratom “appears to have properties that expose people to the risks of addiction, abuse and dependence.” It also blames Botanic Tonics for everything from deceptive marketing to the egregious targeting of college students, as well as “people with a history of alcoholism and drug abuse and addiction”.
That class action kratom lawsuit sheds a lot of light on a very shady subject. So does Brennon Dixson’s Los Angeles Times report. And since there’s still no resolution to the California-filed suit, Dixson’s reporting is about as up-to-the-minute as you can get right now.
A Kratom Lawsuit in Florida
Things are a little different in Florida, where a kratom lawsuit filed by Krystal Talavera’s family just ended with the plaintiffs being awarded $11 million.
As NBC News’ Aria Bendix reports, “Krystal Talavera, a 39-year-old mother of four who lived in Florida, collapsed in her kitchen while preparing breakfast for her family in June 2021. By her side was an open package of kratom with a handwritten “Space Dust” label.”
It was the very last breakfast she’d ever prepare.
The Palm Beach County Coroner attributed Talavera’s death to ‘acute mitragynine intoxication,’” writes Bendix. Mitragynine is one of two main chemical compounds found in kratom. In high concentrations, it produces classic opioid-like effects, including sedation, nausea and vomiting. In rarer cases it can induce the kind of difficulty breathing that may prove to be fatal.
But Talavera’s family insists their mother had no idea of the risks associated with kratom; she was simply taking Space Dust in an effort to manage her pain.
“Never in a million years did she think that the kratom would kill her,” said Tamara Williams, a lawyer at mctlaw representing Talavera’s estate.
A Family’s Kratom Lawsuit
The family’s kratom lawsuit alleged that Sean Michael Harder and his companies — Grow LLC and The Kratom Distro — were responsible for Talavera’s death because they marketed the product as an all-natural supplement without warning consumers of its potential health hazards.
“Most kratom users don’t realize how unregulated it is whenever they’re using it,” said Dr. Peter Grinspoon, a primary care physician and cannabis specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital. The product may be contaminated with lead or heavy metals; it may also contain dosages that are hazardous to consume.
“At the same time,” he added, “I do think it’s really sad how desperate people have become. We’re under-treating chronic pain and we’re under-treating addiction. So lot of this is just really coming out of people’s sheer desperation.”
It’s that sheer desperation which has helped create a monster of a quagmire.
Before the Kratom Lawsuits
“The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency attempted to ban kratom in 2016,” writes Bendix. In fact, the agency set out to classify the plant as a Schedule I substance, which would have placed it alongside drugs like heroin, ecstasy and LSD. “But the effort was met with widespread pushback from consumers, politicians and lobbyist groups like the American Kratom Association.” And the DEA suspended its efforts just one month later.
Not to be deterred, the very next year the FDA issued a public health warning urging people to not use kratom.
“The FDA is aware of reports of 36 deaths associated with the use of kratom-containing products,” the agency’s then-commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, said in a statement.
“There have been reports of kratom being laced with other opioids like hydrocodone. The use of kratom is also associated with serious side effects like seizures, liver damage and withdrawal symptoms.”
From Warning to Seizing
The FDA didn’t stop with the warning however. In fact, NBC News’ Maggie Fox’s report showed the agency ramped-up efforts to seize the substance both here and abroad.
“We have identified kratom products on two import alerts and we are working to actively prevent shipments of kratom from entering the U.S.,” Gottlieb said.
“At international mail facilities, the FDA has detained hundreds of shipments of kratom. We’ve used our authority to conduct seizures and to oversee the voluntary destruction of kratom products.”
Unfortunately, those efforts were short-lived. Sure, the FDA does continue to warn consumers not to use kratom. It hasn’t approved the substance for any medical use either. Nevertheless, kratom is still not controlled under the Controlled Substances Act. Six states, however—Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Tennessee, Vermont and Wisconsin—do have kratom bans. And, as Ben Adlin’s March 2023 Filter report also helpfully attests, both Mississippi and Louisiana were seriously weighing plans to prohibit the substance.
Regulation and Oversight
Believe it or not, both Talavera’s family and the American Kratom Association are lobbying for increased regulatory oversight over kratom.
“The FDA’s irresponsible war on kratom and the agency’s refusal to implement product manufacturing and marketing standards has led to the marketing of dangerous kratom products exposing consumers to unacceptable risks,” said Mac Haddow, a senior public policy fellow at the American Kratom Association.
While it does seem a little disingenuous for kratom’s staunchest advocate to blame the FDA for the kratom deaths, Haddow does have a point. People are going to continue dying until kratom is regulated.
Okay, so maybe the CDC did find that kratom was the cause of death in just 91 out of the 27,000+ overdose deaths which were reported between July 2016 and December 2017. And maybe a good 80% of those kratom-related deaths did involve folks with a prior history of substance misuse. Yet a death is a death is a death, regardless of the numbers or the background. And each death deserves to be prevented.
Got doubts? Just ask the 91 families who lost a loved one to kratom.