$11 million awarded to family of woman who died after taking kratom; Understanding the opioid-like herb

PALM BEACH, Fla. – The family of a mother of four who died after ingesting kratom, an opioid-like herb, has been granted $11 million in a wrongful death lawsuit. NPR reports that 39-year-old Krystal Talavera died from taking a concentrated kratom extract that she had legally ordered off of the Internet.

The lawsuit focused on the herb’s distributor, Grow LLC, alleging that the company falsely marketed the product as a natural supplement. Kratom, derived from the leaves of the Mitragyna speciosa tree native to Southeast Asia, has gained attention for its opioid- and stimulant-like effects. You can legally buy it at some gas stations, bars, or even online. Despite its reputation, the National Institute on Drug Abuse underscores that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved kratom.

Kratom contains dozens of psychoactive compounds or alkaloids, many of which have not been well-studied. Some people report using it to manage drug withdrawal symptoms, pain, fatigue and mental health problems. Because it is not federally regulated, the product can also be contaminated or contain hazardous dosages. Rare but serious side effects have been reported after using kratom, including cardiovascular, respiratory, gastrointestinal and psychiatric problems.

This lawsuit is but one among several that have emerged, reflecting concerns over the marketing and consumption of kratom. Numerous states, including Alabama, Arkansas, and Wisconsin, have already taken measures to ban the herb.

Kratom use has recently increased in popularity in the United States and has been often marketed as a dietary or herbal substance. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports that around 1.7 million Americans over the age of 11 used kratom in 2021. From July 2016 to December 2017, it was the cause of death in 91 of more than 27,000 overdose deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many of those deaths also involved another substance, including fentanyl.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) had initially attempted to classify kratom as a controlled substance in 2016, but public opposition from consumers, politicians, and advocacy groups prompted a reconsideration of this stance. Presently, the DEA designates kratom as a Drug and Chemical of Concern, a stance indicative of the enduring debate surrounding this contentious herb.