KUALA LUMPUR, April 17 — American health officials have found ketum to be the cause of death in 91 unintentional overdose cases from July 2016 to December 2017 in the United States.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that ketum, which is used as an herbal supplement and known as kratom in the US, was the only substance identified in seven out of the 91 cases.
Ketum was pinpointed as the cause of death for almost 60 percent, or 91 deaths, of the 152 overdose deaths that tested positive for ketum.
Traces of other drugs were also found in 152 of ketum-positive overdose cases out of 27,338 total unintentional overdose deaths reported between July 2016 and December 2017.
Fentanyl was the most common substance found in victims’ bodies besides ketum, with fentanyl listed as a cause of death for 65.1 percent of ketum-positive cases.
Heroin was the second most frequent co-occuring substance identified as a cause of death at 32.9 percent of ketum-positive cases, followed by benzodiazepines (22.4 percent), prescription opioids (19.7 percent), and cocaine (18.4 percent).
“Kratom-positive deaths accounted for <1 percent of all SUDORS overdose deaths during July 2016–December 2017,” said the CDC in a statement, referring to the State Unintentional Drug Overdose Reporting System (SUDORS).
The US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) said in February 2018 that ketum should not be used to treat medical conditions or as an alternative to prescription opioids.
“There is no evidence to indicate that kratom is safe or effective for any medical use. And claiming that kratom is benign because it’s ‘just a plant’ is shortsighted and dangerous,” it said.
“We recognise that many people have unmet needs when it comes to treating pain or addiction disorders. For individuals seeking treatment for opioid addiction who are being told that kratom can be an effective treatment, I urge you to seek help from a health care provider,” then-FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb said.
Ketum is not classified as a dangerous drug in Malaysia.
Deputy Health Minister Dr Lee Boon Chye reportedly said the ministry would consider alternative therapy like ketum to treat opiate addiction, after a Universiti Sains Malaysia study claimed the herb had benefits.