Congressional Members To DEA: Delay Kratom Ban

By Victoria Kim 09/29/16

A bipartisan group of 51 House lawmakers have joined the chorus of opposition to the DEA's upcoming ban.

Congressional Members To DEA: Delay Kratom Ban
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The Drug Enforcement Administration’s ban on kratom is supposed to go into effect by the end of this week, but advocates of the herbal supplement aren’t going down without a fight. 

The DEA announced in late August that kratom would temporarily be placed in Schedule I, a category of drugs defined by the federal government as having no medical benefit and a high potential for abuse. Marijuana, heroin, and LSD are also in Schedule I.

Placing kratom—a tropical evergreen in the coffee family native to Southeast Asia—in this category will effectively ban it, angering people who say it is a safer alternative to prescription drugs for treating pain, depression and high blood pressure, among other ailments. 

This week, members of Congress joined the chorus of opposition to the DEA ban. A bipartisan group of 51 House representatives signed a letter asking DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg to delay the ban. 

“As our nation continues to combat the public health crisis of opioid abuse, the federal government has invested significant resources to develop alternative pain management strategies,” reads the letter. This includes a federally funded study to investigate the use of kratom as a treatment for opioid withdrawal. 

But placing it in Schedule I, the most restrictive drug category, will “put a halt on federally funded research and innovation surrounding the treatment of individuals suffering from opioid and other addictions,” reads the letter.

Kratom has a quite a loyal following among those who have found success with the plant. (Of course, like any drug, it’s not for everyone.) Earlier this month, Susan Ash, founder of the American Kratom Association, said that her organization has been receiving thousands of calls and messages from people all over the U.S. who are worried about losing kratom and having to resort to prescription drugs.

“I am completely swamped,” Ash told The Fix. “I have thousands of people afraid of relapse. People are explicitly telling us they are terrified of losing their quality of life or even their lives.”

The House representatives’ letter to the DEA urges the agency to delay the ban, to allow time to consult with “consumers, researchers, and other stakeholders”—something the DEA did not do before making the decision to temporarily ban kratom.

In announcing the ban, the DEA cited a July report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which stated that kratom poisoning was the cause for 660 calls to poison centers across the country between 2010 and 2015. The DEA said that “numerous deaths associated with kratom” indicate that it is a “serious public health threat,” pointing to 15 kratom-related deaths between 2014 and 2016.

Still, these numbers are overshadowed by other drugs, both legal and illegal. Both the House lawmakers and kratom advocates say it’s a very bad idea to restrict access to kratom when people are struggling to find safer alternatives for pain relief than prescription pills.

“This hasty decision could have serious effects on consumer access and choice of an internationally recognized herbal supplement,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr