Drug authorities Thursday called on stores across Australia to clear their shelves of products containing kava, a narcotic used commonly in South Pacific islands.
The federal government said it may ban kava following the recent death of a 51-year-old woman that has been linked to the drug.
The woman died several months ago in the southern city of Melbourne of liver failure. She had been taking a medicine containing kava for four months when she developed liver failure.
Widely used in a ceremonial drink by Pacific Islanders, kava is made from the root of a pepper plant. It is often used in modern alternative medicines to combat stress and insomnia.
“We understand that the woman had been taking several complementary medicines,” parliamentary secretary to the minister for health and aging, Trish Worth, said in a statement.
“One product she was taking contained kava in combination with two other herbs. She had been taking this product for only four months before she presented with liver failure and the product is suspected to be the most likely cause for her illness,” Worth added.
A string of countries around the world have banned kava, fearing a link between its use and liver problems.
Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration launched a voluntary recall of all alternative medicines containing kava and asked consumers to throw out any products they have that contain kava.
Worth said the government would await the findings of an inquest into the woman’s death and review other nations’ policies on kava before deciding whether to ban it.