ARVADA — It's an herbal supplement that's been around for at least 2,000 years, but kratom recently caught the attention of the Food and Drug Administration as people look for an alternative to opioids during an epidemic.
Angela Baldauf recently lost her brother, Andrew. She’ll tell you his personality was about as unique and warm as they come, but his addiction journey is unfortunately much more common. A car accident led to back pain. Back pain led to a Vicodin prescription and eventually he began buying pills on the street and stealing drugs from family.
“There was nothing no one could have said or done to make him stop. I think that's the saddest part of all,” Baldauf said.
Andrew insisted on taking matters into his own hands. He read in an online forum about kratom being a safe alternative to opioids. It was an herbal supplement like green tea, he'd tell his family. He liked the high and started taking more and more and more.
“He actually had a seizure at my mom and dad's house," Baldauf recalled. "My mom did CPR on him. He wasn't breathing.”
Dr. Robert Valuck with the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy says at higher doses, kratom “acts a lot like other opioids” so people can in fact become addicted.
He points to an FDA warning posted just a few months ago that cautions people from buying this plant that can activate opioid receptors in the brain.
“Nothing has been studied," Valuck said. "There is no proof that kratom is effective or safe for anything. Pain or addiction, stimulation or anything. There’s no study. It's the wild west,” he said.
What is clear is that it led to Andrew’s death. His autopsy shows kratom led to seizures and significant brain damage.
“I was with him until his last breath and we had to take him off life support,” Baldauf said. “I don't want anyone else to have to experience that. It's a horrible way to see someone die.”
When Baldauf spots kratom at the counter in her local gas station, she sees red. She also sees Andrew and the potential for other unsuspecting users to become addicted and die.
She wants to hear from other people who have been affected by kratom. The FDA has found dozens of deaths associated with these products and Baldauf wants to push politicians to ban this substance. Six states already ban kratom. Those states include Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee and Wisconsin.
If you or someone you know has experienced problems related to kratom, contact reporter Ryan Haarer at Ryan.Haarer@9News.com.