Chester County family sues seller of herbal supplement claiming it killed son

A Chester County couple is suing the seller of a popular but controversial herbal supplement claiming it killed their son.

The family says authorities found a lethal concentration of something called kratom in 25-year-old Caleb Sturgis' bloodstream after a one-car crash last summer. With their lawyer at their side, they're sounding the alarm for others who may be using the supplement.

Caleb Sturgis' family filed into a Center City law office to hear their attorney make a simple, but powerful claim about the most popular herbal supplement you've never heard of: "Kratom kills and Kratom killed Caleb Sturgis," Civil Attorney Robert Mongeluzzi said. "It is addictive. It is deadly."

When the 25-year-old Sturgis was found dead after crashing his car off the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Chester County last June, it was believed he'd suffered a heart attack while behind the wheel.

However, a coroner's report weeks later, described the cause of death as "acute mitragynine intoxication."

Mitragynine is a key ingredient in the herbal supplement Kratom, which his family says Sturgis had begun taking in tea form a couple of years earlier, to boost his energy,

"When he started to take this Kratom, his personality completely changed. He became tired. He wasn't able to be involved with things, but what we didn't know was that Kratom was gonna kill him," Caleb's sister Tanya Sturgis said.

"I was furious, really. I mean it was just heartbreaking over something that's supposed to be an herbal supplement," Caleb's father, Scott Sturgis, said.

The Food and Drug Administration recommends against the use of kratom, which it says mirrors the effects of opioids exposing users "to the risks of addiction, abuse and dependence."

The Sturgis family attorney Robert Mongeluzzi says the package purchased by Caleb, from SoCal Herbal Remedies, provided no such advisory.

"'Keep out of reach of children.' Other than that, there are no instructions, there are no warnings. It doesn't tell you how much you can take, how often you can take it, what its potency is," Mongeluzzi said.

The lawsuit against SoCal Herbal Remedies asks for money damages. Sturgis' father says there's more than money at stake.

"We're speaking out so that people learn that this can and does kill that kratom will kill," Scott said.