PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. - It’s easy to buy and natural to drink, but a leafy substance known as Kratom is now raising new red flags for Palm Beach County Commissioner Prescilla Taylor.
"If it is a drug that can lead to some mind-altering thing, we need to have some way to educate the public about it," Taylor said Monday afternoon.
Warning labels, age limits, maybe even a Kratom ban are among the options Taylor will be discussing with commissioners when she plans to bring the topic up on Tuesday.
The plant-based substance has been making the rounds in Kava bars and gas stations for the past few years. Doctors call it highly addictive. It’s already been banned in some countries and several states in the U.S.
In Florida, Sarasota County is the only county to ban the substance.
“You start thinking if this might be a public problem, then they (the public) needs to know about it,” Taylor said.
Taylor says she’s bringing up the issue after being contacted by a friend of Ian Mautner. This summer, the 20- year-old committed suicide after jumping off of a bridge over I-95. His mother blames his addiction to Kratom.
Boynton Beach police are not talking about the case since the investigation is still pending and the Palm Beach County Medical Examiner has not issued a cause of death since toxicology reports are still pending.
Three years ago, the Contact 5 Investigators went undercover to show how Kratom was being used in South Florida. We spoke with a user who voiced her concern about it.
"Everybody thought it was the silliest thing to check myself into treatment for, but at the same time I was scared to death, " said Michelle Tesarek who told us she got hooked on Kratom after a few months.
Doctors also sounded the alarm to the Contact 5 Investigators.
"It doesn't have the same obvious high as, let's say, heroin, however when you go to stop it, your body has pretty much the same physical dependence as if you were on heroin,” explains Dr. Raul Rodriguez of the Delray Healing Center. Rodriguez calls Kratom such a problem now, he has his own message for county leaders.
"If you want to help your community and do the right thing and maybe help your grandchild avoid a potential danger, get this off the street," he said.
But those who sell Kratom maintain it's safe. The owner of the Purple Lotus Kava Bar in West Palm Beach told the Contact 5 Investigators in 2011 how drinking Kratom was no different than drinking coffee.
“It's not highly addictive,” said Jimmy Scianno. “It’s not, unless if you drink it in ridiculous quantities," he said.
For now, county leaders will just talk about Kratom, beginning the discussion about what, if anything, they plan to do about it.
"The safety and welfare of the citizens of Palm Beach County is what we're charged to do and if it can save one life then it's worth it to come up with an ordinance," said Taylor.
The Florida Attorney General's Office along with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is monitoring Kratom's effects and any injuries or deaths associated with Kratom. So far, no deaths have been directly linked to the use of Kratom.