DEA Will Not Ban Kratom

By Kelly Burch 10/13/16

The agency responded to public outrage calling for a closer investigation into the drug.

DEA Will Not Ban Kratom
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The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will not ban the use of kratom after all, citing public outrage and the need to obtain more research on the drug. 

The DEA’s reversal of its stance on kratom—a tropical evergreen native to Southeast Asia—is “shocking,” John Hudak, who studies drug policy at the Brookings Institution, told the Washington Post. "The DEA is not one to second-guess itself, no matter what the facts are,” he said. 

The Washington Post report cited a preliminary announcement that is expected to enter the Federal Register on Thursday, Oct. 13.

In August, the DEA announced that mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, the two major chemicals in kratom, would be classed as Schedule I substances alongside marijuana, LSD and other drugs that the agency believes have a high abuse potential, no medical use and severe safety concerns. 

In a July 29 report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) referred to kratom as an “emerging public health threat.” Kratom is easily available online, and despite its relatively obscure use, calls to poison control centers about the drug rose 10 times between 2010 and 2015, according to the report. 

However, when the DEA announced that it would classify kratom as Schedule I, effectively banning the drug, it sparked outrage among people who use the plant to manage their pain and even control opiate addiction. On Sept. 13, members of the American Kratom Association (AKA) and the Botanical Education Alliance (BEA) marched outside the White House to bring attention to the issue. 

“This is a very tragic situation,” Susan Ash, founder and director of AKA, told The Fix last month. “The AKA is fielding thousands of calls, Facebook messages, and emails from people all over the country who are afraid of going back to pharmaceutical drugs because they had unbearable negative side effects, or illicit drugs which will lead to even more deaths during this opiate epidemic.”

Former drug users and people who have never tried opiates were concerned, according to Ash. 

“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,” she said. “We’re also fielding messages from people who have never been addicted to anything. They chose kratom as a safer, natural alternative to prescription drugs. These people feel they will no longer be able to be the productive members of society that kratom has enabled them to be.”

The outcry prompted Congress to weigh in, with 51 members of the House of Representatives asking DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg to delay the ban in order to allow time to consult with “consumers, researchers, and other stakeholders.”

It is not yet clear what approach the DEA will take to kratom regulation (or lack thereof) in the future. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.