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'This drug is popular with teenagers': Family urges lawmakers to ban herb with addictive characteristics after son's death

The drug is widely available at gas stations, health stores, and smoke shops.

ATLANTA — A metro Atlanta family is suing to stop convenience stores from selling a product that killed their son. It’s called kratom and their lawsuit also goes after companies making and distributing it.

The grief is still fresh for the Pope family almost a year after their son Ethan died. The family’s lawsuit alleges while kratom is legal in Georgia, it's not regulated, and they’re hoping to change that.

"Ethan was 23 and in the prime of his life," Dana Pope said.

His life ended unexpectedly last December. 

“We received a call from the coroner that Ethan was found dead on the floor with his puppy Wilson by his side," Pope said. "Months later, we received his death certificate, and Ethan’s cause of death was kratom toxicity.”

Ethan's parents are now filing a lawsuit against about a dozen companies associated with kratom, alleging the herb contributed to his death.

“In small doses, it is a stimulant, and in larger doses, it gives you an opioid-like high," Attorney Matt Wetherington said.

Wetherington is representing the Pope family, who are also pushing lawmakers to ban kratom in the state.

“This drug is popular with teenagers," Wetherington said. "It’s widely available at gas stations. It’s available at health stores. It’s available at smoke shops.”

Kratom is derived from a plant in southeast Asia, according to the Food and Drug Administration, which says it has no approved uses for it.

The FDA’s website warns it has received concerning reports about the safety of it. The herb is often marketed as an aid for pain, anxiety or drug dependence.

In 2019, U.S. health officials listed it as a contributing factor in 91 overdose deaths in 27 states.

“This should have never happened," Pope said. "Ethan should be here today with his family -- not in a decorative box on our bookshelf.”

The American Kratom Association is the only defendant to respond to a request for comment. Their statement can be found at the bottom of this story.

“The American Kratom Association is a consumer advocacy group dedicated to education and responsible use of Kratom. It was improperly added to this lawsuit, and we will vigorously defend the spurious claims against it.”

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