The late John Eden, right, with his sister and parents, who are speaking out about his Kratom addiction. (Photo: courtesy of Lauren Eden)
The parents of a University of Georgia student who committed suicide earlier this month are now speaking out about it — specifically about an unregulated drug called Kratom they say their son John Eden was addicted to, in an aim to save others from the same tragic fate.
“I had a feeling he was on the ledge, and next thing I know I get a knock on my door from a sheriff,” mom Lauren Eden tells Yahoo Parenting, through tears. He told her that John, who was a 22-year-old junior in the Navy Intelligence program, had shot himself while sitting in his truck on May 3.
In the months leading up to that day, she says, her son had come to her and asked for help with what he called an addiction to the substance, which he had initially turned to for his anxiety. She had looked into rehab programs, “but no one had never heard of Kratom,” she recalls. “And at that point we didn’t know where to turn.”
Lauren, who also has a 25-year-old daughter with her husband John, shared her son’s suicide note during an interview with WSBTV. “‘Mom and Dad, I loved you very much,’” she read. “‘Please know there was nothing you could do. I tried everything. I’ve ruined myself with drugs.”
She said he was referring to an age-old Asian herbal supplement called Kratom, which can be used as either a stimulant or a sedative depending on the dosage, and which is made from the leaves of a tree that’s native to Thailand, Malaysia, and Burma. Though a spike in usage has led to recent bans in just a handful of states, including Tennessee and Indiana, it’s not federally regulated and is easy to purchase online. Bags of Kratom, Lauren says, were found in her son’s apartment.
John Eden. (Photo: courtesy of Lauren Eden)
So how dangerous is it? That depends on whom you talk to. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has placed it on its list of Drugs and Chemicals of Concern (in the same company as bath salts and the cough suppressant DXM). “It means it’s not scheduled but is one we’re aware there’s been issues with,” DEA special agent Joseph Moses tells Yahoo Parenting, noting they’ve had reports of Kratom related psychosis. “It’s more for public awareness.”
When ingested in low doses, typically as a tea or pellets, notes the DEA fact sheet on Kratom, the drug, which can be addictive, can cause increased alertness and physical energy. At higher doses, users experience sedative effects.
In addition, the fact sheet states, “Several cases of psychosis resulting from use of Kratom have been reported, where individuals addicted to Kratom exhibited psychotic symptoms, including hallucinations, delusion, and confusion. Withdrawal effects include symptoms of hostility, aggression, mood swings, runny nose, achy muscles and bones, and jerky movement of the limbs.”
In 2014, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced it had seized more than 25,000 pounds of raw Kratom (mitragyna speciosa) from a California warehouse, issuing a warning that the drug can have “pharmacological effects similar to morphine and other opiates.” The seizure, a spokesperson noted, “was taken to safeguard the public from this dangerous product, and FDA will continue to take aggressive enforcement actions against products that are promoted for uses that are unapproved.”
Just one of many websites selling Kratom online.
Although she knew her son had begun taking the drug, John’s mother Lauren admits, “I thought it was harmless. He bought it online.” (Indeed, a quick search for purchasing Kratom brings up many options, including a site offering eight different types for prices ranging from $45 to $78 per 4-ounce packet.)
Last year, the family of a Denver man named Guy Garcia, 36, spoke out about the drug after a seizure that killed him, apparently triggered by a Kratom overdose. Garcia’s death certificate, said his mom, listed “apparent acute mitragynine toxicity” as cause of death — a reference to Kratom’s chemical compound, mitragynine. The drug was also blamed (but not confirmed) in the deaths of several others, including a 31-year-old Montana woman and a teenage boy in Florida named Ian Mautner. “He became argumentative; his eyes would roll back in his head. He was delusional at times. He was not the same person,” his mother, Linda Mautner, told CBS Miami last year.
Florida lawmakers are now in the process of attempting to ban the drug in that state, and it’s already illegal Tennessee, Indiana, Vermont, and Wisconsin. But the efforts have ignited a seemingly small but vocal faction of Kratom supporters who say it has important health benefits. They’ve started online petitions, spoken at legislative hearings, and formed coalitions in an effort to keep it legal.
The Botanical Legal Defense, for example — which has a website, albeit with no biographical details about its organizers — is “dedicated to fighting over-reaching government criminalization of nature’s most significant gifts. Chief among these is Mitragyna speciosa (aka Kratom), a natural analgesic, muscle relaxer, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant.” The herbal supplement, the website explains, has been “widely misrepresented as dangerous and without medical value, when the truth is that is has already been under the scrutiny of the scientific community and has been found to be not only benign, but highly therapeutic.” A series of Reddit threads on the pros and cons of Kratom contain, along with warnings of its potency, first-person accounts of how the drug was beneficial.
Still, John’s parents say they will not back down with their message. “I’m talking about our young people,” Lauren says. “This has to become illegal — or at least something that is only prescribed to someone under a doctor’s care.”