Cobb County

Family calls for ban on controversial herb after 23-year-old son dies

ATLANTA — The family of a 23-year-old college graduate who died after consuming Kratom have filed a wrongful death lawsuit, accusing manufacturers, distributors, and retailers of playing a role in their loved ones death.

Ethan Pope died on December 3, 2021 after his family says he consumed O.P.M.S. Black Liquid Kratom, which is legal and widely available to buy in Georgia but virtually unregulated.

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“This should’ve never happened,” said Ethan’s mother, Dana Pope during a news conference at the State Capitol Thursday. “He should be here today with his family not in a decorative box on our bookshelf.”

“You don’t expect to go into a store and find something similar to heroin between energy drinks and breath mints,” said attorney Matt Wetherington . “We intend to hold every single person and entity involved in the distribution and sale of these products responsible.”

Kratom, which is derived from a plant in Southeast Asia, can be swallowed as a pill, brewed as a tea or crushed or smoked. It’s used as a mood booster, energy supplement and pain reliever. It has also become a go-to for many people suffering from opioid withdrawal and substance abuse.

An autopsy conducted on Ethan’s body determined he died as a result of cardiac arrest due to mitragynine intoxication, according to the lawsuit filed Wednesday.

“The Kratom products sold in the United States frequently have additional additives that are not disclosed, including fentanyl, other opioids and toxic heavy metals,” added Wetherington.” The CDC has reported over 100 deaths as of 2017 directly attributed to Kratom exposure.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning consumers not to use Mitragyna speciosa, commonly known as kratom, a plant which grows naturally in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea. FDA is concerned that kratom, which affects the same opioid brain receptors as morphine, appears to have properties that expose users to the risks of addiction, abuse, and dependence.

There are no FDA-approved uses for kratom, and the agency has received concerning reports about the safety of kratom. FDA is actively evaluating all available scientific information on this issue and continues to warn consumers not to use any products labeled as containing the botanical substance kratom or its psychoactive compounds, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine. FDA encourages more research to better understand kratom’s safety profile, including the use of kratom combined with other drugs.

Channel 2 reached out to attorneys representing all defendants named in the lawsuit and all but one declined to comment.

“The American Kratom Association is a consumer advocacy group dedicated to education and responsible use of Kratom,” wrote Daniel Delnero, an attorney representing A.K.A. " it was improperly added to this lawsuit, and we will vigorously defend the spurious claims against it.”

Channel 2 also attempted to speak with several businesses that sell the product but they declined to comment .

“Ethan’s brother and sister desperately miss their big brother,” said Ethan’s mother as she fought back tears. “Their lives will never be the same.”

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