Scientists Warn That Potential FDA Kratom Ban Could Worsen America’s Opioid Epidemic

In an open letter published on Thursday, the scientists wrote that banning the controversial plant could lead to opioid users relapsing or fatally overdosing.

Scientists Warn That Potential FDA Kratom Ban Could Worsen America's Opioid Epidemic
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In an open letter published on Thursday, the scientists wrote that banning the controversial plant could lead to opioid users relapsing or fatally overdosing.

With mere days having passed since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a new statement on the perceived dangers of kratom, a group of scientists posted a letter addressed to two U.S. government officials, effectively warning the Trump administration that a possible ban on the herbal drug could further aggravate the ongoing opioid crisis plaguing several parts of the United States.

As previously reported by the Inquisitr, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said on Tuesday that kratom “isn’t just a plant, [but] an opioid,” as it contains certain chemical agents that could expose users to adverse effects commonly linked to opioid use. The statement also suggested that at least 44 people have died as a direct result of kratom consumption, an increase from the previously claimed figure of 36 deaths.

The above report cited High Point University scientist Scott Hemby, who questioned the FDA’s warning on kratom in a number of ways. But he isn’t the only expert who has recently spoken out against a potential ban on the drug. On Thursday, a group of nine scientists wrote a letter addressed to Robert Patterson, acting administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway, which echoed many of the concerns kratom advocates brought up in relation to the FDA’s statement, but mainly warned of possible increases in opioid relapses and fatal overdoses, should the herbal supplement be banned.

“A ban on kratom that would be imposed by [Controlled Substances Act] Scheduling would put them at risk of relapse to opioid use with the potential consequence of overdose death,” the scientists wrote in the letter, which was also circulated via the American Kratom Association’s website on Thursday.

“Similar unintended consequences are to be expected in some who would be forced to use opioids to manage acute or chronic pain.”

The letter also questioned the FDA’s language referring to kratom as an addictive opioid, despite the fact that it is actually part of the coffee family, as noted by Quartz. While kratom is sold in various forms, including powder and dietary pills, the scientists behind the new letter stressed that consuming kratom in its raw plant form does not seem to lead to the “highly addictive euphoria” or the dangerous respiratory effects linked to the use of “classical” opioids such as morphine, heroin, and oxycodone.

As further summarized by the Washington Examiner, the scientists encouraged the Trump administration to focus their efforts on further kratom research, instead of outright declaring that the plant is a harmful opioid that should not even be studied by the scientific community. In short, the letter suggested that if the FDA categorizes kratom as a Schedule I drug, this could lead to a “profound and pervasive chilling effect” on any additional research that may be needed.

For the meantime, it still isn’t sure if the FDA’s kratom recommendations will lead to the drug getting categorized as Schedule I, much like heroin and other drugs thought to have high abuse potential and no health benefits. According to Fast Company, the DEA will only make a decision on whether to restrict kratom or not once it has finished fully evaluating its abuse potential.