Local doctors warn parents about kratom

January 16, 2019 06:59 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) - It's called kratom and if you haven't heard of it, your teenager probably has.

It's an herbal substance that is available to anyone for purchase at gas stations and head shops. However, local emergency room doctors say it's dangerous and people are overdosing.  


Dr. Marita Michelin runs the emergency department at Newark-Wayne Community Hospital so she's seen her fair share of overdoses but lately, they haven't all been opioid-related.

"A young woman who overdosed, she told me what she had taken when she woke up and that it was a substance called kratom," recalls Dr. Michelin.  

There have been others since that day too.

"Over the last year, since that experience, I'm seeing it more and more," she says.  

Kratom is a tropical tree native to southeast Asia. Its leaves contain compounds that can affect a person's mind and body.

"It is an opioid-like substance that engages some of the same receptors that narcotics do," Dr. Michelin says.  

Because it's a natural product, it is not regulated by the FDA and there aren't any restrictions on who can buy it.

"It's easily accessible. It's not regulated. From my understanding it's been obtained from either gas stations or other places of business that have it along with all their other products," says Dr. Michelin.  

Rob Brockler owns The Kratom Shop on Monroe Avenue in Rochester.

"We are not doctors, we can't give medical advice. I speak from experience. I talk about what it's done for people," he tells News10NBC.

Rob says his kratom customers have been able to break opioid addictions, relieve pain and lessen stress but he agrees only adults should be using it.

"That's why we're begging for regulations because in an unregulated environment you're bound to have both good guys and bad guys," he says.

Brockler doesn't sell to anyone under the age of 18 and says all of his kratom is tested by a third party lab.

However, because there are no industry-wide regulations, testing is not mandatory for all kratom sold, so it can be hard for users to be sure exactly what they're taking.

"There have been companies that have been found out to have put research chemicals to enhance the strength and potency which is a stain on the industry," he says.

New York State Senator Pam Helming introduced legislation last year that would ban the sale of kratom to anyone under the age of 18. It passed in the Senate but was never picked up in the Assembly.

Senator Helming tells News10NBC she plans to reintroduce the bill this year.

In a statement she says, "Last year, my legislation banning the sale of kratom to minors passed the Senate unanimously. However, it did not move in the Assembly, so the process starts over again. It needs to pass both houses of the legislature and then would go to the governor for his signature. Now that the previous Assembly sponsor, Joe Morelle, has moved onto the House of Representatives, I am working to secure a new Assembly sponsor. This is a common sense, bipartisan bill that is designed to protect our young people and communities. It is important that we regulate and control kratom's sale to minors until we know more about its possible benefits and risks. This bipartisan legislation shows that we take the addiction crisis seriously. I want to thank my Senate colleagues on both sides of the aisle for passing this legislation last year, and I am hopeful the Assembly will join us in passing it again this year."

Brockler tells News10NBC he and some of his customers will be participating in a study with the University of Rochester about kratom that will be starting at the end of the month.  


Jennifer Lewke

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