27 Investigates: Kratom faces government suspicion

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — If you haven’t heard of Kratom yet, you probably soon will. Prosecutors compare it to heroin, but it’s perfectly legal to buy and available on store shelves.

Law enforcement is onto this latest trend, and our own WKBN First News Reporter Jeff Levkulich investigated Kratom and how it is being sold right here in the Valley.

Kratom has been around for thousands of years. It is made from from the leaves of trees that grow in Southeast Asia, similar to a coffee plant. Here in the U.S., it is billed as a tea in tobacco shops and is sold as a pill, liquid or powder. But the Ohio Attorney General’s Office said it can mimic dangerous drugs.

“It has a mild sedative effect at low doses, and at higher doses, it can have much more pronounced effects similar to heroin,” said Jonathan Faulkerson of the Ohio Attorney General’s office.

Faulkerson is the Chief Deputy for the Ohio Attorney General. He said the office is always on the lookout for the latest illicit drug to hit the market. Both the DEA and Ohio agencies consider Kratom a drug, even though it is not regulated by the FDA. They’re considering taking action to outlaw it.

“We are concerned about the potential abuse from it,” Faulkerson said.

The Kratom package itself reads “Use with caution” and has several warnings for users, including “do not operate motor vehicles or machinery.” An information flyer for Herbal Salvation Kratom claims it enhances intimacy, relieves pain and so much more, none of which has been proven by the FDA.

Kratom is readily available online and over the counter. Our news team found it in stores in the Valley sold in different forms, but how is it being marketed to customers?

We sent our producer “Jon” undercover to find out.

Here is what happened when “Jon” told the clerk he had a friend tell him about some Kratom. The clerk said they sold it and showed Jon where it was.

The clerk admitted he knew very little about Kratom, but that didn’t stop him from talking up what he has heard from other people who take Kratom to our producer. And that one particular brand, Captain Kratom Gold, he sells by the case.

“I hear people tell me a lot, like very frequently, they have stopped taking prescription pain medication and they need something to take off the edge,” the clerk said.

We showed our video about how Kratom was being sold at those stores to the state prosecutor, who had problems with the way those store employees were talking about Kratom to customers.

“That is illegal and I would not recommend taking Kratom in any form as a pain reliever,” Faulkerson said. “Possessing Kratom is not illegal. However, it is illegal to possess something that is intended to be used as a drug unless it is approved as a drug by the FDA.”

We contacted the owners of both stores. One did not return our call. The other would not go on camera and said his clerk was just reading off information about Kratom from a product pamphlet.

As with any drug, Kratom can become addictive. Doug Wentz of the Neil Kennedy Recovery Clinic said counselors there have not seen any cases yet of Kratom addiction or overdoses.

“I think we will know if it’s a problem when the emergency rooms report it. We don’t see it much in the treatment centers or hear about it, but that does not mean it’s not out there,” Wentz said.

Kratom already is banned in Indiana and other states such as Pennsylvania are looking to follow suit. It’s also illegal in Australia and a handful of other countries.

The company that makes Captain Kratom Gold never responded to email requests for an interview.

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