Background: Amidst the opioid crisis, many people are turning to plant-based kratom for self-treatment of pain, opioid addiction, and for recreational use. Its legality is variable and its safety and medicinal effects are not agreed upon. It is broadly available from Internet Kratom Vendors (IKVs).
Methods: An examination of the online marketplace for kratom was conducted to provide context to the market amidst regulatory attempts by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and state legislatures. A complex search strategy identified 663 English-language IKVs selling kratom for home delivery. The 100 most popular were selected for in-depth content analysis. IKVs were visited once for content analysis data collection in December, 2017 and revisited in April 2018 to assess responses to FDA action. IKV website and social media profiles were coded for topics including location, payment and shipping options, age verification, health warnings and disclaimers, and grassroots advocacy regarding upcoming state/federal regulations.
Results: Forty-seven percent of IKVs claimed that kratom provides pain relief, 25% claimed it provides relief from opioid withdrawal, 81% featured a disclaimer that kratom is addictive, 54% stated that kratom is not FDA approved, and 66% featured disclaimers that it was not intended for consumption. Only 5% of vendors advertised effective age verification (such as verifying age at delivery). Compliance on the vendor's part with state and local bans varied by ban location, with only 27% prohibiting sales to Rhode Island while 65% did not ship to Indiana.
Conclusions: IKVs provide easy access to a wide variety of unregulated intoxicating products with poor age verification and low adherence to US state- and local-level restrictions. There is a high prevalence of vendors featuring health claims forbidden by the Food and Drug Administration. Lessons learned from regulating the Internet cigarette sales industry could be effectively applied to IKVs with future efforts.
Keywords: Addiction; Age verification; Food and Drug Administration; Internet sales; Kratom; Opioid.
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