DEA cracks down on kratom served at many kava bars

Kratom, served at some kava bars throughout Palm Beach County, will soon be considered in the same class of illegal drugs as heroin, LSD, marijuana and Ecstasy.

The Drug Enforcement Administration announced Tuesday its intention to place the active materials in the kratom plant into the Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.

Kavasutra in Lake Worth is one of many kava bars to have opened in south Florida in recent years. (Thomas Cordy/The Palm Beach Post)
Kavasutra in Lake Worth is one of many kava bars to have opened in south Florida in recent years . (Thomas Cordy/The Palm Beach Post)

“Kratom is abused for its ability to produce opioid-like effects and is often marketed as a legal alternative to controlled substances,” the DEA said in a statement.

The drug also has been used to wean addicts off stronger drugs like heroin, cocaine, and methadone. Researchers at the University of Mississippi say it may even act as a suppressor for such highly addictive drugs.

The DEA crackdown is a victory for advocates who have warned of the dangers of kratom and also a financial hit for the several kava bars that operate from Boca Raton to Palm Beach Gardens.

“I think it is awesome. I am very happy that someone has listened to what we have been saying for the past three years,” said Linda Mautner, a Delray Beach resident.

Mautner blames her son Ian’s suicide in July 2014 on addiction to kratom. She says the drug is “seemingly benign” because it is touted as “all natural. She said Kava bars are very lucrative businesses and can lure unsuspecting young people into addiction.

“I hope this is right thing and I hope it will save lives,” she said. Currently, the mother has established a foundation in hopes of building a center for continuum of care for alcoholics and addicts once they finish their 30-day treatment.


Linda Mautner speaks about kratom and asks to have age restrictions on the sale of the herbal substance during the Palm Beach County Commission meeting in West Palm Beach, Fla. on Tuesday, December 2, 2014. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)
Linda Mautner speaks about kratom a during a Palm Beach County Commission meeting in December  2014. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)

Most kava bars contacted did not want to  comment on the DEA’s move, but James Hare, manager of Native Kava in Boynton Beach, said the DEA is in overkill mode when it has been shown by researchers to have medicinal purposes.

“It’s crazy to go from zero to a schedule I substance. It is irresponsible,” he said.

Hare said most of the problems, such as so-called overdoses, associated with kratom comes from extracts in which other substances are added or it is mixed with other drugs by the user. There is even synthetic kratom.

“There is a market for it synthetic blends and people are having an adverse affect and they are blaming it on kratom itself,” Hare said.


Kratom comes in numerous forms, law enforcement says.

Kratom just doesn’t come in a drink served in coconut shell at kava bars. Law enforcement has seized it in powder, plant, capsules and even drug patches.

“Because the identity, purity levels, and quantity of these substances are uncertain and inconsistent, they pose significant adverse health risks to users,” the DEA stated.

The Centers for Disease Control says kratom abuse can lead to agitation, irritability, and hypertension. The DEA is aware of 15 kratom-related deaths between 2104 and 2016.

Kratom, from a tropical tree native to Southeast Asia, can have stimulant effects at low doses and sedative effects at high doses, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

It is banned in Thailand, Australia, Myanmar, Malaysia. Several U.S. states have also moved to make it illegal, but Florida never followed suit after legislation failed.


Stuart doctor suspended for alcohol abuse arrested for DUI

Dermatologist Dr. Robert Berg of Stuart – temporarily suspended from practicing in December because of his “significant alcohol use – was arrested this week for DUI.

Berg was arrested 2:46 a.m. on Monday in Palm City, according the Martin County booking blotter drinsignia

Berg had practiced for 20 years with Dermatology of Treasure Coast in Stuart when the Department of Health issues a restriction on Dec. 31

The order prohibits Berg from practicing as a physician until an approved evaluator notifies the department he was sober enough to return to work. The department also filed an administrative complaint against Berg in January.

According to the state’s order in December, Berg’s staff started to notice a change in Berg’s personality. He became obsessed with getting enough sleep and started using a combination of alcohol and sleep aid medications.

Berg started to miss work, forcing staff to go to his home to see if he was OK.

The state’s order said Berg walked out of a drug and rehabilitation center in 2014 and refused professional counseling.

Epi-Pen crisis sends Boynton Beach mom to Canada

A Boynton Beach mother says she hopes to buy EpiPens in Canada for her 8-year-old son after the price of the life-saving product for allergies skyrocketed in the U.S. by 400 percent.

Anna Pickman’s son, Zander, has a severe food allergy that her doctor says could be fatal. “The allergy is so bad he can’t even touch anything containing milk. Just from touching it, he breaks out in hives,” she said.

Families of children with allergies s who need EpiPens have been hit with a 400 percent increase in the product.

Every school year she buys EpiPens for home and for school. This year when she went to CVS to buy them and was told that the medicine would cost $575 for one package of two (the dose is often two shots),

She thought it was $5.75.

Then when she said she needed another and the pharmacist said it would cost her total of $1,100.

“Then my jaw dropped. I don’t have $1,100 in my pocket,” Pickman said.

Pickman said in past years she has paid $100 and even nothing with a coupon and insurance. This August, her insurance said the cost was not covered because she had not met her deductible.

Heather Bresch – the CEO of Mylan, the company that makes EpiPens – has come under intense fire   surrounding the recent 400-percent increase in her company’s allergy injector that is used for peanut, milk and other food allergies, as well as for those allegeric to bee stings.

Mylan’s profits from selling EpiPens hit $1.2 billion in 2015. The drug in EpiPens is actually generic but Bloomberg reports that the epinephrine-delivery system by Mylan represented 40 percent of the company’s operating profits.

Anna Pickman with her son, Zander, says she would have had to pay nearly $1,100 for EpiPens for her sons’ milk allergy.

In response to the backlash, Mylan is offering a generic EpiPen for half the price, or about $300 for a pack of two. It also has said it would increase financial assistance for uninsured patients. But the company has refused to reduce the price, meaning that either insurance or the patient ends up picking up the tab.

Pickman said she found it interesting that Bresch has received an increase in her CEO pay and that company has aggressively marketed the product.

She says there is only word to describe the EpiPen price gouging: greed.

Pickman’s husband, Sarge, will soon travel to Canada and she has done research and found that the product is far less expensive north of the border where drug costs are regulated. She hopes with prescription in hand she can get the much-needed life-saving medication for her son there.

In the meantime, she has a few EpiPens that have not expired and will rely on those until her husband heads to Canada with fingers crossed.

Is a new potent designer drug behind vicious Martin County attacks?

UPDATED 3:40 p.m. What is causing young men to viciously and randomly attack couples in their home in Martin County?

Sheriff William Snyder says investigators found a tantalizing clue after a second such attack this weekend in a Stuart neighborhood: a designer drug in the bath salt class that didn’t initially show up in any police database.

Snyder at a Monday news conference identified the substance as dibutylone, a type of hallucigenic bath salt. Users online warn of the powerful drug, calling it “a beast.”

Nico Gallo, 19,  went “cannonballing” through a window of a Hibiscus Park residence around 2 a.m. Sunday morning where a mother and son battled him from one end of the house to another until deputies subdued him, the sheriff said.

Gallo exhibited “extreme strength and a high tolerance to pain” early Sunday morning. The mother hit Gallo several times with a baseball bat, but it had no affect on the drugged-out teen.

What is even more concerning to Snyder is that the assault was very similar to one on Aug. 15, in which authorities say Austin Harrouff, also 19, stabbed a couple to death in their Tequesta garage, biting one victim severely.

Bath salts are the street name for a designer drug that is anything but for a soothing soak. It is a sister illicit substance to flakka and in the cathinone family of drugs often sold over the internet as legal products.

And just like Harrouff after the Aug. 15 attack, the suspect was hospitalized, unconscious and intubated, usually done to assist breathing. On Monday, Gallo was listed in stable condition.

“There is a lot of similarities, unfortunately,” Snyder said.



No doubt: obsesity linked with cancer, study says.

There seems little debate in the scientific community that obesity is linked to cancer, according to a scientific review by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Kaiser Health News reports that the organization based in France 14 yrs ago reported finding sufficient evidence that excess body fat increases the risk of certain cancers.

fat guy

The group published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine not only to reaffirm those findings but adding eight more cancers to the list.

Reducing one’s weight can reduce the risk of several cancers, including colon, rectum, stomach, esophagus, and numerous others, the evaluation concluded.

The report also found that an estimated 4.5 million deaths in 2013 were related to overweight and obesity.


FAU Study: Can sea sponge be a cure for pancreatic cancer?


A deep-water marine sponge found off of Fort Lauderdale’s coast contains a compound that can inhibit the growth of pancreatic cancer cells, say  scientists at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Fort Pierce.

FAU Harbor Branch Leiodermatium
Could this sponge off the coast of Fort Lauderdale hold the answer to curing pancreatic cancer?

The sponge contains leiodermatolide, a natural product that research shows can block cancer cells from dividing using extremely low concentrations of the compound.

According to a FAU news release, sea sponges are an ancient group of animals that appeared more than 600 million years ago that have many of the same genes as humans.

“These scientists are taking advantage of this similarity in human and sponge genomes to isolate marine natural compounds from these organisms to develop medicines useful in the treatment of human diseases such as cancer,” the release stated.

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the United States. Patients have less than a 7 percent survival rate within five years of diagnosis, and 74 percent of patients die within the first year of diagnosis.

The lead author of the study is Esther Guzmán, an associate research professor at FAU Harbor Branch.

ks for treatments for pancreatic cancer and infectious diseases, and their scientists also have collaborations with other scientists working on other forms of cancer, malaria, tuberculosis, neurodegenerative disease and inflammation.

“The primary goal of our marine biomedical and biotechnology program is to discover marine natural products with utility as medicines or as tools to better allow us to understand disease processes,” said Wright.

Face-biting murders: New drug N-Bomb may have played part, experts say

Did the designer drug dubbed “N-Bomb” — said to be the deadliest to date — play a part in the double-murder and face-biting tragedy that occurred near Tequesta?

As suspect Austin Harrouff remains hospitalized following the alleged stabbing deaths of a Jupiter couple and the injury to a neighbor who jumped in to try to save them, some medical professionals say that Harrouff’s bizarre behavior may be the result of a relatively new super drug that some takers may think is LSD.

The “N-Bomb” bath salts has been the most dangerous designer drug available.

READ MORE: Complete coverage of the face-biting killings

Toxicology tests on double-murder suspect Austin Harrouff were negative for cocaine, marijuana, meth and opiates, and further blood tests are being processed that will be able to identify chemicals used in flakka and bath salts.

Deborah Mash, a professor and director of the Excited Delirium Education, Research and Information Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said bath salts remain very hard to detect in drug tests.

That was the case with Rudy Eugene, who in May 2012 attacked a homeless man in Miami for 18 minutes, beating him unconscious and then chewing off most of his upper face. Police shot Eugene dead after he refused to heed their warning to stop biting the victim.

The N-Bomb bath salt — its name derived from its chemical acronym 2C-I-NBOMe — hit the market in 2010, and unlike other bath salts, it works on both of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, Mash said. Neurotransmitters communicate information between the brain and the body.

“High concentrations of serotonin has been shown in tests with lab rats to induce this type of gnawing,” Mash said.

Harrouff stormed out of restaurant on Monday night, and ended up near his father’s home in southern Martin County. He attacked John Stevens and Michelle Mishcon, who were lounging in their garage, with his pocket knife, killing both.

Austin Harrouff, in a 2015 Suncoast High School yearbook photo during his senior year. (Staff / The Palm Beach Post)

Deputies came upon Harrouff, hunched over Stevens, biting his victim’s face to the point that it left substantial damage, according to Martin County Sheriff William Snyder.

Mash speculated that a drug like N-Bomb triggered an already underlying mental illness, such as bipolar disorder, in Harrouff resulting in a psychotic violent break.

“They get this stuff through the Internet. These new designer drugs are made in China, and they think they are taking LSD,” Mash said. “These are very potent drugs with other contaminants. These kids don’t know and they get this stuff and it is just dangerous and deadly crap.”

While other drugs, such as crack cocaine, have been linked to excited delirium — a type of violent psychosis — Mash said what appears to have occurred with Harrouff is a different kind of toxic reaction.

“Excited delirium people don’t bite,” she said. “It is only recently that we are hearing of this because of these new designer bath salts.”


After a year, Health Care District finally names Chief Medical Officer

Dr. Ron Wierwora left the Health Care District of Palm Beach County after the Board in July 2015 surprisingly gave him a no-confidence vote after a series of bad audits and a failed attempted coup by the Sheriff’s Department to take over Trauma Hawk.

It should be noted, it took the district — which provides a health-care safety net on numerous fronts — more than year to officially fill Wiewora’s shoes as both CEO and Chief Medical Officer.

On Tuesday, Dr. Belma Andrić, was named to the chief medical officer position. She follows a decision by the Board to name Darcy Davis as CEO in March. Davis had served in various positions with the district before being tabbed to lead it.

March 25th, 2015 - West Palm Beach, Florida: Dr. Belma Andric, of the Health Care District of Palm Beach County.
Dr. Belma Andric is the new Chief Medical Office for the Health Care District of Palm Beach County.
Darcy Davis was named the CEO of the Health Care District in March.
Nick Romanello recently left the Health Care District after serving as general counsel.

In the meantime, the district lost Nicholas Romanello, its legal counsel. He resigned after being passed over for the CEO position in favor of Davis. The attorney is currently on the state Board of Medicine.

So Andrić joins a revamped leadership marshalling a district with a $200 million-plus budget and 1,200 employees. The district runs Trauma Hawk, Lakeside Medical Center in Belle Glade, primary care clinics and school nurses, among other services.

Dr. Andrić will be responsible for quality and patient safety across the Health Care District and will directly supervise Trauma Hawk and patient safety departments, among other duties.

She previously served as medical director of the District’s C. L. Brumback Primary Care Clinics, which provides care to over 30,000 adult and pediatric patients annually. She oversaw eight clinic locations

“She brings her love of data analytics and performance outcomes to this new role,” Davis said. “Dr. Andrić is a demonstrated networker who is able to reach beyond institutional walls to attract, recruit and inspire our clinical team.”

Sex and Millennials: New FAU study makes surprising finding

With the plethora of social hookup apps and sexually transmitted diseases on the rise, some social scientists have proffered the Millennial generation ushered in a new era of free love.

But a new Florida Atlantic University study blows up that stereotype. In fact, Millennial appear to be as prudish as their great-grandparents.

Let’s just snuggle. New study finds Millennial are not the hook-up generation – in fact, quite the contrary.

The Boca Raton-based college found many Americans born in the 1990s in particular, are forgoing sex during young adulthood.

The FAU study, just published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, contradicts the widespread stereotype that Millennial are the “hookup” generation that use popular dating apps like Tinder and Grindr.

Millennials are no more promiscuous than their predecessors and are less likely to be having sex than young adults were 30 years ago, according to a survey of almost 27,000 people.

The generation did not report more sexual partners after the age of 18 than GenX’ers born in the late 1960s. In fact, 15 percent of 20- to 24-year-old Americans had no sexual partners since turning 18.

FAU Associate Professor Ryne Sherman.

The only other generation that showed a higher rate of sexual inactivity were those born in the 1920s, said Ryne Sherman,, co-author of the study and associate professor of psychology in the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science at FAU.

“Many of the differences between the groups in the recent generations were also significant,” said Sherman. “For example, women were more likely to be sexually inactive compared to men, Whites more than Blacks, those who did not attend college more than those who did, and in the East more than the West.”

So why are Millennials not doing the deed?

For one, as the Pew Research Center observed, nearly one-third of today’s young adults are still living at home, largely because of economic factors like lower wages and social ones, like delayed age of first marriage.

“With more [millennials] living with their parents even post-recession, young adults may have fewer opportunities to have sex,” according to a story in The Daily Beast.