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$11 Million Awarded After Woman Died From Drinking Kratom

A woman’s family was awarded $11 million from a wrongful death lawsuit against the company that sold her kratom, an herb that produces opioid-like effects. 

In June 2021, Krystal Talavera, a 39-year-old mother of four, collapsed in her Florida home when preparing breakfast. Next to the mother was an open package of kratom with a handwritten label, “Space Dust.” 

The Palm Beach County Coroner concluded that the cause of death was ‘acute mitragynine intoxication.’ Mitragynine, a chemical compound in kratom, produces highly concentrated opioid-like effects such as sedation, nausea, vomiting, addiction, and difficulty breathing that can lead to death. 

The family filed for a wrongful death lawsuit, allegedly claiming that the kratom distributor, Grow LLC, marketed the product as an all-natural supplement. According to Tamara Williams, Talavera’s lawyer, she was taking kratom to help with pain.

Kratom in Florida

Kratom has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so it operates in the gray area of the law. The herb is widely sold online or at convenience stores, gas stations, and vape shops in the form of loose powder, capsules, or liquid. While kratom is legally sold in Florida, it is banned in other states, such as Alabama, Arkansas, and Wisconsin. 

The FDA has warned people not to use kratom due to the health risks and concerns associated with liver toxicity, seizures, and addiction. However, kratom users advocate that the herb is beneficial for pain management and can help people who are addicted to more dangerous opioids, like heroin or fentanyl, wean off the drug. 

Even though the alleged benefits of kratom have been studied on animals, medical professionals do not have enough scientific proof that the alleged benefits are proven true. Due to the lack of federal regulations associated with kratom manufacturing, the product may be contaminated with heavy metals or lead that are dangerous for human consumption. 

Data taken in 2021 from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) show approximately 1.7 million people aged 12 and older use kratom. The majority of the consumers did not experience life-threatening side effects. 

According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 2016 and 2017, there were more than 27,000 overdose deaths, and 91 of those deaths were caused by kratom. About 80% of the kratom-related deaths had a history of substance abuse.

Dr. Peter Grinspoon, a primary care physician and cannabis specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital, claims that it is not typical for kratom to cause many overdoses. For this reason, Grinspoon wonders if kratom was the main factor in Talevera’s death or if it did not even play a role at all. The FDA claims that kratom has caused overdoses, mainly in rare cases that involve the use of other drugs simultaneously. 

The Lawsuit

After Talavera’s death, her son, Devin Filippelli, filed a lawsuit in November. Filipellis sued the corporation and its owner, Sean Michael Harder, on behalf of himself, his siblings, and his mother’s estate. 

Filippelli allegedly claims that Harder and his company are responsible for his mother’s death due to the choice of words in marketing. The product was marketed as an all-natural supplement without a warning label regarding potential health hazards. Filippelli sought reparation of the damages for loss of support and services as well as mental pain and suffering. The final verdict resulted in $11 million awarded to Talavera’s family for damages caused.

Harder did not respond to the media when asked to comment. Talavera’s family is hoping kratom will be regulated and controlled by officials.  

The Future of Kratom

In 2016, The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) attempted to ban kratom. However, the attempt was overruled by consumers, politicians, and lobbyist groups in relation to the American Kratom Association. 

There is still no conclusive evidence that kratom is an effective pain reliever or that it is effective in treating drug addiction relating to opioids. There is also not enough evidence that kratom alone can inflict death.

Due to the lack of federal restrictions, it is uncertain whether lawsuits, such as Talavera’s, can force companies to label their products accordingly, listing the dosage, ingredients, and safety warnings associated with kratom consumption.