Congressional Members Ask DEA to Delay Kratom Ban

By Donna Gregory Burch

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Donna Gregory Burch

More than 50 congressional members have asked the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to delay its plan to classify kratom as a schedule I controlled substance beginning Oct. 1.

In a letter delivered to acting DEA administrator Charles P. Rosenberg on Monday, the members of Congress urged the agency “to delay a final decision on the placement of kratom as a schedule I, provide ample time for public comment on this significant decision and resolve any inconsistencies with other federal agencies regarding the use of kratom.”

A second letter was sent to Shaun Donovan, director of the Office of Management and Budget, requesting his office to use its “statutory authority” to delay the DEA from illegalizing kratom.

Last month, the DEA announced plans to add mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, two active ingredients in kratom, to its list of schedule I controlled substances. Schedule 1 is the DEA’s most restrictive category and includes substances such as heroin and LSD.

Kratom is a tree that’s native to southeast Asia and is related to the coffee plant. It’s been used as an herbal therapy for centuries, and in recent years has gained popularity as a pain reliever and to help with opioid withdrawal.

Six states have banned kratom, saying it can be addictive, but proponents say it’s a safe, natural alternative to opioids and other pain relievers.

“The main chemical [in kratom] is mitragynine,” wrote Reps. Mark Pocan (D-2nd Wisconin) and Matt Salmon (R-5th Arizona) in a Sept. 20 letter to their fellow congressional members seeking support for a scheduling delay. “It binds to some of the same receptors as opioids, providing some pain relief and a calming effect, but not the same high. And the chemical doesn’t cause the same, sometimes deadly side effects as opioids, such as respiratory depression.”

The DEA wants to ban kratom “in order to avoid an imminent hazard to public safety … Kratom is abused for its ability to produce opioid-like effects and is often marketed as a legal alternative to controlled substances. Law enforcement nationwide has seized more kratom in the first half of 2016 than any previous year and easily accounts for millions of dosages intended for the recreational market, according to DEA findings. In addition, kratom has a high potential for abuse, has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and has a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision. These three factors constitute a schedule I controlled substance according to the Controlled Substances Act passed by Congress in 1970.”

The DEA has linked 15 deaths between 2014 and 2016 to the use of kratom, but an analysis of these incidents by Forbes.com found all but one of those deaths involved people who were using other drugs in addition to kratom.

In contrast, 180 people die each month from alcohol overdose.

The DEA’s claim that kratom has no accepted medical use is also debatable as pointed out in Monday’s congressional letter to the DEA:

“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 study funded by the National Institutes of Health in partnership with the University of Massachusetts and the University of Mississippi to investigate the use of kratom as a remedy for opioid withdrawal. This study led the researchers to apply for a patent identifying the kratom extract, mitragynine, as a useful treatment for other addictive drugs besides opiate derivatives. The DEA’s decision to place kratom as a schedule I substance will put a halt on federally funded research and innovation surrounding the treatment of individuals suffering from opioid and other addictions – a significant public health threat. … This hasty decision could have serious effects on consumer access and choice of an internationally recognized herbal supplement.”

Kratom users were blindsided last month when they learned of the DEA’s plan, but they quickly rallied together in an effort to stop the scheduling. A WhiteHouse.gov petition asking President Barack Obama to keep kratom legal has garnered more than 130,000 signatures so far. However, it generally takes the White House several weeks to respond to petitions, so it’s unlikely any help will come from that front before the end of the month. On Sept. 13, kratom proponents rallied in Washington, D.C.

With the delivery of Monday’s congressional letter, kratom supporters are now waiting for the DEA’s response.

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The following congressional members signed the letter to the DEA in support of a delay to allow for more study and public comment:

Justin Amash (Michigan)

Dan Benishek (Michigan)

Earl Blumenauer (Oregon)

Suzanne Bonamici (Oregon)

David Brat (Virginia)

Julie Brownley (California)

Michael Capuano (Massachusetts)

Steve Cohen (Tennessee)

Gerald E. Connolly (Virginia)

John Conyers (Michigan)

Jim Costa (California)

Peter A. DeFazio (Oregon)

Suzan K. DelBene (Washington)

Keith Ellison (Minnesota)

Tom Emmer (Minnesota)

Lois Frankel (Florida)

Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii)

Paul Gosar (Arizona)

Tom Graves (Georgia)

Morgan Griffith (Virginia)

Denny Heck (Washington)

Joe Heck (Nevada)

Michael M. Honda (California)

Richard Hudson (North Carolina)

Steve Israel (New York)

Hank Johnson (Georgia)

Walter B. Jones (North Carolina)

Steve King (Iowa)

Raul R. Labrador (Idaho)

Leonard Lance (New Jersey)

Barbara Lee (California)

Frank LoBiondo (New Jersey)

Zoe Lofgren (California)

Barry Loudermilk (Georgia)

Thomas Massie  (Kentucky)

Betty McCollum (Minnesota)

Gwen Moore (Wisconsin)

Mick Mulvaney (South Carolina)

Scott Peters (California)

Mark Pocan (Wisconsin)

Ted Poe (Texas)

Jared Polis (Colorado)

Dana Rohrabacher (California)

Tim Ryan (Ohio)

Matt Salmon (Arizona)

Mark Sanford (South Carolina)

Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (Virginia)

Adam Smith (Nebraska)

Scott Tipton (Colorado)

Brad Wenstrup (Ohio)

John Yarmuth (Kentucky)

Donna Gregory Burch was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2014 after several years of unexplained pain, fatigue and other symptoms. She covers news, treatments, research and practical tips for living better with fibromyalgia on her blog, FedUpwithFatigue.com. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter. Donna is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared online and in newspapers and magazines throughout Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania. She lives in Delaware with her husband and their many fur babies.