Coroner reveals details behind kratom overdose report
TUPPER LAKE — The coroner who released the controversial report saying kratom use led to the death of Tupper Lake police Sgt. Matthew Dana has provided more information about the investigative process that led up to his ruling.
Supporters of kratom from around the nation have weighed in heavily online, saying overdosing on it is impossible. Nevertheless, the coroner’s report says Dana suffered a hemorrhagic pulmonary edema — blood in the lungs — as a result of an overdose of kratom.
Kratom is a plant from southeast Asia used for a variety of reasons ranging from pain relief to bodybuilding. It is banned by several countries but remains legal in most U.S. states, including New York. It is currently under review by the federal Food and Drug Administration, which will advise the Drug Enforcement Administration’s decision whether to designate it as a Schedule 1 illegal drug on par with heroin, LSD, cocaine and marijuana.
Franklin County Coroner Shawn Stuart said Dana was taking the Red Vein Maeng Da strain of kratom as a powder form, either putting it into capsules or just using a spoonful and a glass of water. Dana died Aug. 6 at the Tupper Lake home he shared with his girlfriend.
Stuart worked alongside local medical examiner Dr. C. Francis Varga, and the Pennsylvania-based National Medical Services Labs performed the toxicology testing. The accredited, privately owned laboratories discovered no narcotics or opioids in Dana’s blood, Stuart said.
Stuart said the Journal of Analytical Toxicology and Journal of Forensic Sciences were the two primary resources used in his process for understanding and testing for kratom, which he knew Dana used. These journals set the parameters for the laboratories’ testing for the plant, and they feature articles about previous studies and autopsy findings in great detail.
The Journal of Forensic Sciences features the 2012 article “A Drug Fatality Involving Kratom” by Michael F. Neerman, Ph.D., Randall E. Frost, M.D., and Janine Deking, B.S., which describes the autopsy of a 17-year-old man whose cause of death was declared to be “possible Kratom toxicity.” The man also had over-the-counter cold medications and benzodiazepines in his system as well as 600 nanograms per milliliter of mitragynine, the active chemical in kratom.
Dana had 3,500 ng/ml of mitragynine in his blood, nearly six times as much as the man in the study.
Hundreds of kratom supporters from around the U.S. have posted comments on Enterprise stories about Dana’s reported cause of death, rejecting Stuart’s ruling that Dana had died of a kratom overdose. They have also expressed their views through Twitter, email and phone calls. Many say they take kratom every day and praise the physical and emotional benefits it provides them.
“It helps alleviate mild anxiety that I have fought for decades,” said Rick Manning of Cincinnati, Ohio. “I have been largely anxiety-free since I added kratom to my daily regimen [sic] about six years ago.”
State police say they are looking into Dana’s death in greater detail and will use Stuart’s report as a source in their investigation.
Coroners are elected by county voters. They are not required to be medical professionals, but they use medical and police resources, including medical examiners, to inform their reports.
Varga and the DEA’s Plattsburgh office did not respond to requests for comment.