30 July 2023 | 16:19
The family of a Florida mother who died after taking supplements of the herbal drug kratom has been awarded $11 million in a wrongful-death lawsuit against its manufacturer.
Krystal Talavera, 39, a nurse and mother of four, was planning to surprise her partner with a Father’s Day breakfast on June 20, 2021, when she suddenly lost consciousness in her Boynton Beach home, according to the suit.
Biaggio Vultaggio, the father of her youngest son, found Talavera lying face down in their living room next to a coffee mug containing her latest purchase from The Kratom Distro – “Space Dust” – a product derived from the kratom plant and not regulated by the FDA.
Talavera was rushed to the hospital, where she died of “acute mitragynine poisoning,” a kratom-induced high, according to the Palm Beach County Coroner’s office.
“This $11 million verdict should be a wakeup call to the kratom industry about this dangerous and unregulated drug,” Talavera’s attorney Tamara Williams said in a statement Wednesday. “There are families across the country who know firsthand that kratom is addictive and can be deadly.”
Devin Filippelli, 21, Talavera’s oldest son, who filed the lawsuit against The Kratom Distro and distributor Grow LLC, alleged that his mother’s supplements produced “opioid-like effects” that caused “respiratory failure.”
Filippelli had been with his mother celebrating his high school graduation the day before her death — and both were excited about his prospects at the University of Florida. The grieving son has been heartbroken ever since the “core of the family” left them.
Talavera’s ex-husband, Benny Flores, added that two boys the couple shared have gone through tremendous pain, and their 6-year-old son asked him, “When is his mom coming back?”
Filippelli noted that his mother, years before her death, was introduced to kratom products by a friend and that she believed the products were “safe and natural dietary supplements,” according to the suit.
Kratom products are abundant in the United States, with about 1.7 million Americans taking the supplements by 2021, according to the FDA, which has previously cracked down on the industry.
In 2019, the agency found “significant levels” of lead and nickel in kratom products, so that it could cause severe metal poisoning if consumed over a long period of time.
Between July 2016 and December 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that there were about 153 overdose deaths in which the victim tested positive for kratom.
During his ruling, West Palm Beach Circuit Judge Donald Middlebrooks sympathized with Talavera’s family, comparing their grief to families in Florida who lost loved ones to an unregulated tobacco industry in the past.
“I emphasize again that no award of damages will ever be sufficient and that this decision reflects nothing more than a deference to previous cases,” Middlebrooks said.