Kratom is a natural plant native to Southeast Asia that has been used in the region for decades, but it's fairly new to the United States and Southwest Florida.
Some people say it's helped them in reducing pain and has helped addicts recover. But others say it's dangerous and could even be deadly. Experts said it's been linked to deadly overdoses.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) identified 15 deaths connected to Kratom from 2014 to 2016. The FDA records at least 44 Kratom related deaths in the last decade.
One of these deaths is 27-year-old Christopher Waldron. His mother, Laura Lamon says he was her only son and the love of her life.
On July 17th, 2017 she got a call from Tampa police.
“He [investigator] said your son is deceased. I lost it. I just started yelling and I don't remember much after that,” Lamon said.
Lamon thought that he had overdosed on narcotics, but a month later she received an autopsy report that indicated the cause of death was intoxication by Kratom, and strictly Kratom, according to the Hillsborough medical examiner.
"I was shocked and then when I got it. I thought, 'What is this?' I had found some things in his room and I saw the packages of what he had taken but I didn't know much about it,” Lamon said.
Director of SalusCare Steven Hill says one of the biggest dangers with Kratom is that it’s not regulated or monitored.
“You never know exactly what you're getting. Anything could be in the packaging. There could be different levels of the active substance,” Hill said.
Lamon believes that if the plant was properly labeled, her son would have survived.
“There was no label on it at all. it didn't have a dosage amount, didn't have a warning label, didn't say don't mix it with this or that, if you have this condition, or whatever. a bottle of Tylenol has that on there,” Lamon said.
She says that it is so devastating because her son didn’t want to die. She doesn't necessarily want to see Kratom banned, but thinks it should be researched and much more regulated.
“It absolutely should be banned, it’s like playing a game of roulette,” Steven Hill, director of SalusCare, said.
Adrianna Marrone, manager of Up in Smoke in the Cape says Kratom came to the U.S. recently, and now it’s one of their best sellers.
“Just to help with the aches and pains and anxiety and depression,” Marrone said.
A former addict, Amanda Raska, says that Kratom helped her overcome drugs.
“He told me about Kratom and that day I tried and I never touched another pill, it literally saved my life,” Rasksa said.
Raska said she started using Kratom five months ago when a friend who was also an addict told her about it. Before using the plant, she couldn't get out of bed without taking prescription pills.
“It was a horrible life, I have 5 kids so i could not even take care of my children,” Raska said.
She said that she grew up around addicts and has an addictive personality, but said Kratom isn’t addicting. If she goes without it, there’s no symptoms of withdrawal.
Steven Hill says that he saw firsthand how people react to the drug.
“It’s happened on our detox where people are coming in and the issue is with Kratom,” Hill said.
Hill said the experience of taking Kratom can be described as a quick down feeling followed by hallucinations and visualizations.
In 2016, there were less than 100 poison control calls regarding the drug, and by the middle of 2018, the number of calls were approaching 700.
“So we're seeing more and more use and we're seeing the health concerns and health issues also go up. ER visits spiked,” Hill said.
In August 2016, the DEA announced an intent to ban Kratom, but after strong reaction from the public, it was labeled as pending analysis.
“We've seen and heard of people who have very bad reactions. people who have had to be hospitalized,” Hill said.