DELRAY BEACH, Fla. - A South Florida mother spoke to Local 10 News about her support for a new push to ban an herbal supplement that she believes killed her son. It's a popular product critics have said is causing an epidemic here, and now a state lawmaker has introduced legislation to make it illegal.
The herb, called kratom, is a leaf native to southeast Asia. It can be ground into a powder or taken as a pill. The Food and Drug Administration banned its import in 2014. In January, the agency seized $400,000 worth of supplements coming into the country.
According to the American Kratom Association's website, it is a botanical that can improve health and wellness. The DEA listed it as a drug of concern that can lead to psychotic symptoms and addiction.
Linda Mautner of Delray Beach told Local 10's Amy Viteri that her son, Ian, was a rising senior at Boca Raton High School when he tried kratom for the first time.
"It's the worst thing that could ever happen to a parent -- the absolute worst," Mautner said. "He was just a happy-go-lucky guy and had his dreams ahead of him. The next minute he was gone."
Mautner said her son struggled for three years with treatment for addiction to kratom and depression. In 2014, when he was 20 years old, he committed suicide after a relative confronted him about stealing checks to buy kratom.
"To me it feels like somebody kidnapped my son, because the day that this became a problem my son went missing and now my son is dead," Mautner said.
Ian Mautner's death is one of the reasons state Rep. Kristin Jacobs, D-Coconut Creek, whose district includes Broward County, got involved.
"People will say, they'll tell you, 'Oh, it's natural. It's an herb. It's a leaf,'" Jacobs told Viteri. "Well, so is cocaine."
The lawmaker's proposal, HB73, would make buying and selling kratom a misdemeanor. She said one of her biggest concerns is the fact that the drug is being marketed toward the large community of recovering heroin addicts in South Florida, leading to relapses.
"To take this drug and only find yourself moving from one addiction to another, and, in fact, that is infinitely more expensive," Jacobs said.
One business that sells kratom in Delray Beach is Kavasutra, located next door to a recovery center. No one from the business wanted to talk about kratom, but customer Rob Sirmeyer disagreed with the effort to ban it.
"I find it to be a bit ridiculous," Sirmeyer said. "I think it's a great alternative to people that, you know, struggle with addiction to opiates."
But according to Dr. Deborah Mash, a professor of neurology at the University of Miami, kratom poses the risk of addiction.
"I worry about young people, children and teenagers being exposed to this," Mash said. "This contains a powerful opiate that has shown in many different settings it can be addictive."
At the Purple Lotus Kava Bar in Miami Beach, Kristie McDonald said her customers include firefighters, police officers and medical professionals. She said people use kratom for everything from pain to depression, and it's one of few alternatives to prescription medication.
"Your only choice shouldn't be medicine that makes you sick or something natural that has a proven track record of not making you sick," she added.
Mautner said what it did to her family was much worse.
"I had a feeling that I always knew he was going to die from this," she said.
Mash said the concern with using something that's not regulated for human consumption is that customers have no way of knowing what is in the product they're buying.
The bill to ban kratom was making its way through the state legislature.
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