Feds Back Off on Ban of Exotic Drug Kratom

If you're a fan of the Southeast Asian drug kratom, you're in luck.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration this week withdrew its plans to enact an emergency ban on the substance. The DEA said in a statement that "numerous comments from members of the public challenging the scheduling action" inspired it to postpone the action and seek more input.

Last month, 51 members of Congress signed a letter addressed to DEA administrator Chuck Rosenberg. It urged him to halt the prohibition because kratom has shown promise as an opioid substitute. This is notable at a time when overdoses, fueled more than anything else by legal gateway drugs like oxycodone, have become the leading cause of accidental deaths in the nation.

The DEA said it would take public comments until Dec. 1. While federal officials have blamed 15 deaths on kratom since 2014 and describe the drug as a source of respiratory depression, nervousness, agitation, aggression, hallucinations and more, organizations opposed to the war on drugs hailed the administration's move to halt placing kratom in its list of Schedule I drugs with no legitimate use.

In a statement the Drug Policy Alliance said the DEA was under "enormous pressure" to back off on its prohibition. "Many people struggling with opioid addiction have turned to kratom as a safer alternative, but all promising scientific studies on its role in opioid treatment would have been immediately shut down by a Schedule I designation," according to the alliance.

"This is a truly remarkable moment to see the Drug Enforcement Administration, a law enforcement agency with a long track record of ignoring both science and public opinion, being forced to consider the scientific evidence and public opinion before taking additional steps with respect to kratom,” said Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance. "People who oppose a federal kratom ban only have about six weeks to tell the federal government that kratom does not belong in our broken drug scheduling system."

In August the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles announced that authorities had seized $150,000 worth of kratom from a firm called Kratom Therapy in Grover Beach, which was selling the drug online.

"Kratom is a drug that has very serious health effects on users,” U.S. Attorney in L.A. Eileen Decker said at the time. "We will continue to partner with the FDA to protect the public from the distribution of unapproved and mislabeled substances like kratom."


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