ROANOKE, Va. – It’s legal, it's been around for at least 200 years and it’s under new scrutiny in America. There are more warnings this week about kratom, a plant that’s rising in popularity.
The Food and Drug Administration said this month that the herbal supplement can be dangerous and could be banned, adding that it should be considered in the same family as opioids, which are causing a national addiction crisis. The FDA statement said there have been 44 deaths involving kratom in the last seven years.
Jamie Waldrop, with Roanoke’s HOPE Initiative, said it's a problem in southwest Virginia.
"We know that it can be dangerous," she said. "I do know of people who are abusing this in the Roanoke area."
She said that if kratom is used in large doses, combined with drugs or in a modified state, the dangers rise.
"When they extract the alkaloids out of this and make it into a concentrate, they are increasing the effects of its opioid nature," she said.
Nancy Hans, the director of the Roanoke County Prevention Council, is spreading the warnings to parents.
"The fact that we're seeing that there are people that are dying of it, then we have to look at why is that happening" she said.
Kratom can be used in a pill form or as a powder. It’s gaining popularity in America as a treatment for pain, anxiety and drug dependence.
"I think people need better alternatives for safe pain control," Waldrop said.
It's not hard to get. 10 News bought two powder packets at a Roanoke convenience store on Colonial Avenue Friday and, in just a few clicks, anyone can order some online.
People in support of its use say that it’s safer than opioid painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin and can help people end their addiction to those opioids.
Earlier this month, FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said, “Claiming that kratom is benign because it’s ‘just a plant’ is shortsighted and dangerous. It’s an opioid."
The FDA has sent its analysis to the Drug Enforcement Administration, which is considering whether to place kratom in the same category of illegal drugs as heroin and LSD.