Multi-state salmonella outbreak linked to the drug Kratom

A multi-state salmonella outbreak that impacted Alaska has been linked to an alternative medicine.

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An investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found that the drug Kratom caused nearly 200 cases of salmonella in 41 states — including two Alaska cases. The outbreak occurred between January 2017 and May 2018.

Kratom is a tropical tree native to Southeast Asia and a cousin of the coffee tree. It’s both a stimulant and a sedative, and people use it to treat everything from opioid withdrawal to chronic pain. The FDA hasn’t approved the drug and cautions against using it. It’s currently legal in Alaska and all but six states.

The two Alaskans first reported symptoms this spring. One bought the Kratom online. The other bought it in powder form from an unmarked bin at a store in Anchorage.

Neither was subject to oversight from an Alaska regulatory entity because the packaging didn’t claim that it was edible or therapeutic.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and FDA are currently considering placing the drug on the federal controlled substance list. Reported problems include addiction, seizures and psychosis.

Fifty people were hospitalized, but no one died in the outbreak.

Erin McKinstry is Alaska Public Media's 2018 summer intern. She has an M.A. from the University of Missouri's School of Journalism and a B.A. from Knox College. She's reported stories for The Trace, The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, Harvest Public Media, the IRE Radio Podcast, KBIA and The Columbia Missourian.

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