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Feds move to ban exotic recreational drug kratom

South Florida mom claims kratom use killed her son

BROWARD COUNTY, Fla. – Linda Mautner blames kratom -- an opiod-like high that was legal until this month -- for her 20-year-old son's death in Delray Beach.

Before he died in 2014, a relative caught him stealing to buy kratom, she said. Her son Ian struggled with his addiction to kratom for about three years and underwent treatment for that addiction, as well as depression, before he committed suicide. 

"He was just a happy go lucky guy and had his dreams ahead of him," Mautner said. "The next minute he was gone."

The Drug Enforcement Administration announced Aug. 30 their intention to list kratom as a controlled substance to avoid an imminent hazard to public safety.

The DEA also released a notice on Aug. 31 to warn the public of a temporary ban on the "manufacture, distribution, possession, importation and exportation" of the opioids mitragynine and 7-hydroximitragynine, the main active constituents of the plant. 

They have been keeping an eye on the drug since 2012. Two years ago, the FDA allowed U.S. Customs agents to seize it. 

According to the DEA, between February 2014 and July 2016, they have seized some 247,000 pounds of kratom --  powder, plant, capsules, tablets, liquids, gum and drug patch.

The Southeast Asian plant, also known as Mitragyna Speciosa, can have many of the same side effects that opioids have shown. Some of them include respiratory depression, constipation and tolerance development.

Dennis Martinez said he has used kratom, because it is "similar to coffee" and it "gives you like an awareness, good vibe type of effect."

Martinez is among the activists who advocate kratom and other alleged natural solutions as an alternative to pharmaceutical painkillers. Some users count on it for treatment of everything from chronic pain to depression.

The American Kratom Association is launching a national call to action and they’re planning a kratom march at the White House next week to try to fight the ban. It’s a decision that would affect several businesses selling kratom  in South Florida. 

Two attempts in the last two years to ban kratom in the Florida state legislature have failed. For Mautner, the ban means saving lives. 

"I had a feeling," Mautner said about losing her son. "I always knew he was going to die from this."

There is at least one documented death in Florida as a result of kratom. An autopsy report from Santa Rosa County in 2013 listed the cause of death as accidental acute mitragynine intoxication. 

About the Authors:

Amy Viteri is an Emmy Award-winning journalist who joined Local 10 News in September 2015. She's currently an investigative reporter and enjoys uncovering issues facing South Florida communities. A native of the Washington, D.C., area, she's happy to be back in South Florida, where she earned a masters degree at the University of Miami.

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.