DEA Kratom Ban Takes Effect Friday, Lawmakers Ask Agency To Reverse Decision

John Houck

A Drug Enforcement Agency ban of the herbal supplement kratom will likely go in effect on September 30. However, a bipartisan group of U.S. representatives is requesting DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg reverse the kratom ban to allow continued research on the controversial plant.

Known for its opiate-like effects, kratom has become progressively popular for treating pain as well as drug addiction. Under the DEA's ban, the natural herb will be reclassified as a Schedule I drug, joining other drugs like heroin and marijuana. According to the Controlled Substances Act, Schedule I drugs are likely to be abused and have no medical value.

In the letter to the DEA, 51 U.S. lawmakers warned the kratom ban would hinder research into the plant and its potential to help drug addicts recover.

"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. Mitigating the effects of the national opioid epidemic -- which along with heroin killed close to 30,000 people in 2014 -- has been a major goal of the Obama administration's drug policy."

Drafted by Representatives Mark Pocan and Matt Salmon, the letter criticized the DEA's hurried decision to ban kratom.

"This significant regulatory action was done without any opportunity for public comment from researchers, consumers, and other stakeholders. This hasty decision could have serious effects on consumer access and choice of an internationally recognized herbal supplement."

Without the addictive side effects often associated with drugs heroin or Oxycontin, many kratom believers strongly believe the herb could be the answer to the opioid epidemic now plaguing many parts of the world. Some even accuse the DEA of protecting the interests of pharmaceutical companies by eliminating a potential competitor.

While kratom may or may not have the health benefits many people claim, the DEA ban centers around the potential for misuse of the plant and protection of public safety.

"Independent of the DEA, the Food and Drug Administration has issued a number of public health warnings and import alerts, most recently about July 2016, and concerns they have about kratom representing a health risk," said Russ Baer, a spokesperson for the DEA. "And it's been on our radar for awhile as a drug of concern."

In the kratom ban notice issued late last month, the DEA noted more than 600 poison control center calls related to the plant were made between 2010 and 2015. The notice cited 15 deaths were linked to kratom between 2014 and 2016, but the DEA later revised that figure down to one.

The DEA kratom ban, likely to take effect on Friday, will expire in 2018 unless the agency decides to make it permanent in the near future. Most researchers believe the ban could be reversed if proof can be provided that kratom is medically useful. Yet, without legal access to the plant, it is doubtful scientists will be able to deliver that evidence.

[Featured Image by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]