Many people who have accidents suffer from chronic pain. Painkillers are also used by people who have cancer and many other terminal diseases. All painkillers should be prescribed by a physician. Drugs and supplements are generally regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Claims about the efficacy of drugs and supplements are regulated by both the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission.
You’ll notice we keep saying “and supplements.” This is because things like vitamins, diet pills, and herbal remedies aren’t considered drugs, and are therefore regulated differently. One big difference is that drugs require FDA approval before they can go to market, but supplements do not. So what happens when a product labeled as a supplement should really be labeled as a drug?
FDA warnings about, and actions regarding, Kratom
The FDA has a notice on its website warning consumers not to use the herbal supplement Mitragyna speciosa, commonly known as kratom. Kratom grows naturally in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea. The warning was issued because the FDA is concerned that kratom, “which affects the same opioid brain receptors as morphine, appears to have properties that expose users to the risks of addiction, abuse, and dependence.”
The FDA states that there are no FDA-approved uses for kratom, and is specifically warning people “not to use any products labeled as containing the botanical substance kratom or its psychoactive compounds, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine.” The FDA is currently and actively reviewing all available scientific information about kratom, and investigating how kratom interacts with other drugs.
The FDA placed kratom on alert as an unapproved drug in 2012. There was a second import alert in February 2014 regarding kratom-containing dietary supplements and bulk dietary ingredients. Additional FDA actions involving kratom include:
- Seizing 25,000 pounds of kratom from Rosefield Management, Inc. in Van Nuys, California.
- Seizing nearly 90,000 bottles of dietary supplements that were labeled as containing kratom in 2016.
- Seizing 100 cases of products that were labeled as containing kratom – “distributed by Nature Therapeutics LLC, which does business as Kratom Therapy and is located in Grover Beach, California. The seized products are marketed under the brand name Kratom Therapy.”
The seizures were accomplished through other federal agencies such as the US Marshal’s office. The FDA is encouraging healthcare professionals and consumers to report any adverse reactions to the FDA’s MedWatch program.
The FDA has also issued warning letters to companies selling illegal, unapproved kratom drug products “marketed for opioid cessation, pain treatment and other medical uses.” Additional warning letters have also been issued.
So is kratom a drug or a supplement?
For all intents and purposes, kratom appears to be a drug masquerading as a supplement, but no one seems to know for sure. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) list kratom as a “Drug and Chemical of Concern,” per Medical News Today, and there were 91 overdoses in the years 2016-2017 alone. On the other hand, there were other substances involved in 84 of those overdoses. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has said that kratom is not illegal, but the FDA is asking people not to take it. And yet through all of this, nothing has been done to change the labels on kratom-based products that are sold online or in local shops.
Wrongful death and injury claims stemming from Kratom use in Washington State
If a medication (prescribed or over the counter) causes death, heart problems, respiratory disorders, or other ailments, the manufacturers of the drugs can be held liable by the families of the decedent and by the person who is injured. The manufacturers may either be strictly liable because the drug is “defective” or liable based of negligence – such as a failure to conduct proper clinical tests, or to provide an accurate label. In addition to the manufacturers of defective drugs, the distributors and retailers may also be strictly liable. Manufacturers, distributors, and sellers of drugs and supplements may also be liable for false statements about the effectiveness of their products.
Washington state also permits the filing of a wrongful death action if a company or person’s wrongful act, negligence, or neglect causes the death of another person. This is what we are seeing here: an increased number of wrongful death lawsuits involving the use of kratom. In many of these cases, families of the victims are talking about the packaging of the products – packaging which implies that kratom is safe to use, even when it may not be, or claims to be a painkiller even though it is not FDA-approved.
Wrongful death claims can be brought based on product liability, negligence, medical malpractice, and other reasons. Wrongful death damages include:
- The medical bills of the decedent. Consumers who take medications such as kratom may seek medical care to try to cure or prolong their health. The family is entitled to compensation for any surgeries, therapy, medications, or other healthcare that is needed.
- The funeral and burial expenses of the loved one.
- The amount of financial support the decedent would have provided for his/her family.
- The value of the household service the loved one would have provided.
- The value of the love, affection, guidance, and companionship that decedent would have provided the family members.
If a child dies, the parents claim damages for:
- The child’s health care expenses
- Loss of the child’s services, loss of the child’s financial support, and other economic losses
- The loss of love and companionship of the child, loss of the child’s emotional support, and for injury to or destruction of the parent-child relationship.
Normally, the personal representative files the wrongful death claim on behalf of the spouse/domestic partner, parents, and/or children of the decedent. In some cases, siblings may be entitled to wrongful death damages.
At Philbrook Law Office, our Vancouver and Battle Ground, WA personal injury lawyers and wrongful death lawyers understand how much people in pain rely on drug and supplement manufacturers and sellers to be truthful about their products. We work with drug and dietary supplement professionals and federal and state agencies to show dangerous drugs caused the death of a loved one. We demand all the compensation Washington law permits.
To discuss any injuries due to drugs or supplements or the death of a loved one, call our attorneys in Vancouver or Battle Ground, WA. You can phone us at 360-695-3309 or use our contact form to schedule an appointment. We represent victims and families on a contingency fee basis.
Founding Attorney Matthew Philbrook attended Clark College, Washington State University, and Gonzaga University School of Law. He is a member of the Washington State and Oregon State Bar Associations and started Philbrook Law Office in 2005. He specializes in Personal Injury, DUI and Criminal Defense cases. Learn more about Mr. Philbrook.