WEST CHESTER — The family of a West Chester man who died last year from an overdose of kratom has filed a wrongful death suit against the firm that sold it to their son.
It is the first wrongful death lawsuit of its kind filed in Pennsylvania.
Caleb Sturgis, 25, died June 27, 2018, after he drank tea made with the herbal supplement kratom, according to a lawsuit filed in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas against SoCal Herbal Remedies of Big Bear, California.
In August of last year, Chester County Coroner Dr. Christina VandePol attributed Sturgis’ death to mitragynine toxicity due to consumption of kratom, an herbal supplement marketed as a natural painkiller.
The lawsuit stated that the manufacturer “provides no warning label or dosage instructions.”
The lawsuit seeks $50,000 in damages.
Sturgis, according to medical reports cited in the lawsuit, drank kratom tea on the morning of June 27, 2018, before driving to his job as a human services counselor in the Philadelphia suburbs. He crashed on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, striking a curb and flipping over.
SoCal made and packaged the tea, which is made from tropical kratom tree leaves, and had no warnings or use instructions on its package, other than to keep away from children.
Robert Mongeluzzi, the family’s attorney, said medical testing has revealed that kratom kills.
“If Caleb had not been seduced by the misleading and unproven claims of the kratom industry, this incredible young man would be alive today,” Mongeluzzi said. “Those responsible for his death must now be held accountable, and the Sturgis family is determined to do all it can to prevent other deaths caused by kratom.”
Scott Sturgis, Caleb’s father, said kratom must be banned until there is sufficient research proving its safety.
“We are speaking out so that people know that Kratom can and does kill,” he said. “Kratom needs to be banned until there is sufficient research proving its safety, efficacy and dosing. Kratom killed our Caleb. We will not stand silent until it can’t kill anyone else.”
An attorney for SoCal indicated the company’s stance that it is not to blame for Sturgis’ death.
“SoCal Herbal Remedies firmly believes it bears no liability for the unfortunate death of Mr. Sturgis,” said Tony Sherr, representing the company.
Some scientists say kratom holds promise for treating chronic pain. But in 2017, the Food and Drug Administration began issuing a series of warnings about kratom and now identifies at least 44 deaths related to its use. And the Drug Enforcement Administration has begun an effort to ban kratom citing it as an “imminent hazard to public safety.” The DEA wants kratom to be classified as a Schedule 1 drug, the same as heroin, LSD, marijuana and ecstasy.
Ryan Jones of Caln Township also died last year of acute mitragynine intoxication linked to kratom, VandePol said.
“Unfortunately, there is little research available on kratom,” Vandepol said. “These deaths obviously raise our level of concern, however, and I encourage health care providers to be on the alert for its use in our community.”
Sturgis died of a massive heart attack while driving to work on June 27, 2018. Before leaving his home, he drank a cup of tea made from tropical Kratom tree leaves. There was no warning label on the herbal supplement that he purchased online. His family said he had been using the supplement as an energy boost.
Sturgis’ death is believed to be one of more than 40 in the United States linked directly to kratom, which remains unregulated.