LONGVIEW — A Cowlitz County jury earlier this month awarded $2.5 million to a Castle Rock family over a wrongful death lawsuit after a 39-year-old man with back pain died from ingesting a popular marketed herbal supplement and pain reliever called kratom that is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.
A 12-member jury ruled in favor of Sybil Coyne and the estate of her late husband, Patrick Coyne, citing that Wendianne Rook and her Oregon-based company, Society Botanicals, were liable because the kratom product she sold was not reasonably safe in design, its labeling was negligent, and those factors led to Patrick Coyne’s death, according to court records.
Rook declined to comment on the verdict to The Daily News.
Kratom is a tree native to Southeast Asia and its leaves are packaged in pills, powders or drinks and sold often in convenient stores as an all-natural supplement that can relieve pain, anxiety and even opioid withdrawals.
Patrick Coyne — a Portland boat methanic with a history of back pain — took Rook’s powdered product Kratom Divine’s Maeng Da “several times a day at both work and home,” the lawsuit alleges.
On June 27, 2020, the lawsuit states he kissed his wife and said he loved her before sitting in a recliner in their Castle Rock home. The next morning, she found him unresponsive.
Cowlitz County Coroner Dana Tucker reports Patrick Coyne died of “toxic effects of Mitragynine (Kratom),” and his matter of death was an accident. Mitragynine is a compound in kratom that interacts with opioid receptors in the brain, reports the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
A bag of Kratom Devine was found near the body of Patrick Coyne, who left behind three children under the age of around 13, according to the lawsuit.
“My family is grateful that the jury has seen the dangers of kratom, and that it does kill,” Sybil Coyne said in press release from her attorneys Talis Abolins and Michael Cowgill of the Seattle law firm mctlaw.
Abolins said people need to be aware of the risks of taking the popular marketed supplement.
“It’s not the safe product it’s being sold as,” he said. “It’s not coffee and tea like Wendi Rook said it was.”
The FDA reports the administration has not approved kratom to be sold as a prescription or an over-the-counter drug in the U.S., and kratom cannot be legally added to conventional food. The administration does not regulate kratom because the law doesn’t require the FDA to approve dietary supplements for safety before they reach consumers.
Rook said during her deposition she was not selling kratom for human consumption and that she intended consumers “will do with it what they choose to do with it,” according to court records. She said she knew kratom was not an approved supplement and not approved for human consumption.
She admitted several times in court that she was not a doctor, but published anecdotal evidence in an e-book about kratom’s effectiveness to reduce pain, anxiety, depression, stress and fatigue. She said during court she had done extensive research on kratom prior to selling but did not know of any adverse side effects and said the product was not addicting.
But, the Drug Enforcement Administration reports kratom can lead to addiction, and can be a stimulant in low doses, a sedative in high doses and even cause hallucinations. The lawsuit alleges Patrick Coyne’s use of kratom increased the longer he took it.
The FDA says kratom can cause liver toxicity and seizures.
Patrick Coyne purchased Rook’s powered kratom at C and C Speedy Mart at 135 Huntington Ave. North in Castle Rock, the lawsuit states, as well as a Portland convenient store called PDX Food Mart. Both stores were named in the lawsuit but were dismissed and are on appeal pending a decision.
As of July 29, C and C Speedy Mart sold other Kratom products — kept behind the cash register with the cigarettes and liquor — including a powder by the company Remarkable Herbs; pills by the company Optimized Plant Mediated Solutions; and drinks that look similar to the packaging of 5-hour Energy shots called Kryptic Kratom.
Each of the packages state the product is for people 18 and older. The first two packages state by using this product or even opening the package “you accept full responsibility” of any adverse affects.
Some states, not including Washington and Oregon, have laws against the sale or possession of kratom, while the marketed supplement is popular across the country. A national survey states 1.7 million Americans aged 12 and older said they used kratom in 2021.
“That’s what we’re hoping the public starts to understand,” Abolins said. “Just because the stuff is everywhere doesn’t mean it’s followed the regulations.”