Kratom has defenders even though its safety's questioned

VANCOUVER, Wash. - Cowlitz County deputies discovered packets of Kratom surrounding a woman's body Monday and now investigators are trying to figure out what role the legal drug played in her death.

Kratom comes from the crushed leaves of a Southeast Asian tree. Taken in small doses it can improve focus and concentration. But larger doses can lead to hallucinations and delusions.

While many people are concerned about the drug's safety, it does have its defenders.

After 16 years of taking Vicodin, morphine and other pain medications, Marcia Richmond swears by Kratom, specifically premium Bali Kratom powder.

"It so helps with my pain," she said.

Two or three times a day, Richmond calls on a cup of hot water and a spoonful of Kratom to manage her arthritis and back pain.

"I don't feel any different after I take it than I do before I take it," she said.

But her packet of Kratom is the same type Cowlitz County investigators found opened Monday along with a glass smoking pipe around the body of a 31-year-old woman.

"We're just really concerned that this product, which she clearly had been using, played a role in her death," said Chief Deputy Charlie Rosenzweig with the Cowlitz County Sheriff's Office, adding that "right now we really can't say for sure what role Kratom played at all" in her death.

Investigators say the woman had medical issues that were not life-threatening and toxicology tests will take several weeks.

But Kratom also is tied to a bizarre incident in Kelso on Sunday. Police found a 27-year-old mother of two running around naked, swinging a hammer and screaming about Jesus.

"These packets are not regulated. The manufacturers who distribute this product are under no regulations to prove what's in the contents of the package," said Rosenzweig.

In effect, there is no way to know whether you're buying rat poison in one batch and baby powder in the other.

Richmond defends Kratom as a pain reliever largely because she's worried it might become outlawed.

"I think if somebody is running down the streets naked screaming about Jesus, it doesn't have anything to do with Kratom," she said.

But she said she'll be watching the investigation in Cowlitz County very closely.

"If they could show me that Kratom somehow caused her death and how it caused her death, I would think twice about it. I'm not looking to kill myself," she said.

While Kratom is not illegal now, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency considers Kratom a drug of concern and more testing of it is needed.