WASHINGTON, Nov. 14 (Xinhua) -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Tuesday issued a public health advisory regarding potential risks associated with kratom, warning consumers not to use the herbal supplement to treat conditions like pain, anxiety and depression.
Scott Gottlieb, commissioner of the U.S. FDA, said in a statement that the agency is aware of reports of 36 deaths associated with the use of products that contain kratom, a naturally growing plant in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.
Some marketers have touted kratom as a "safe" treatment with broad healing properties but "evidence shows that kratom has similar effects to narcotics like opioids, and carries similar risks of abuse, addiction and in some cases, death," Gottlieb said.
"At a time when we have hit a critical point in the opioid epidemic, the increasing use of kratom as an alternative or adjunct to opioid use is extremely concerning," he said.
Gottlieb was also concerned that patients believe they can use kratom to treat opioid withdrawal symptoms.
He pointed out that the use of kratom is also associated with serious side effects like seizures, liver damage and withdrawal symptoms.
In response, the FDA said it has exercised jurisdiction over kratom as an unapproved drug, and has also taken action against kratom-containing dietary supplements.
Meanwhile, the health regulator is working to prevent shipments of kratom from entering the U.S. and has detained hundreds of these packages at international mail facilities.
"I want to be clear on one fact: there are currently no FDA-approved therapeutic uses of kratom. Moreover, the FDA has evidence to show that there are significant safety issues associated with its use," Gottlieb said.
"While we remain open to the potential medicinal uses of kratom, those uses must be backed by sound-science and weighed appropriately against the potential for abuse," he added.