Resistance from federal lawmakers and kratom advocates has delayed the Drug Enforcement Administration's plan to ban two active ingredients in the herbal alternative drug, which would prevent its use in the United States.
The DEA could have banned kratom on Sept. 30, but letters and petitions have temporarily suspended any action on the part of regulators. More than 140,000 opponents signed a White House petition to block the ban, which would have made kratom a Schedule I substance -- the most restrictive drug classification category the DEA uses.
Kratom, which is sold online and in local smoke shops, comes in pill and powder forms. It is manufactured from a plant indigenous to Southeast Asia, and it derives from the same family of plants as coffee.
In small doses, kratom can significantly minimize chronic pain and is believed to help wean addicts off certain opioids like heroin and hydrocodone. For proponents, that is a major positive trait because there has been a six-fold increase in heroin deaths since 2001, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Robert Wolfe, 32, lives in Lorena and uses kratom to help with anxiety and mild depression.
"It has been something that I can use in my toolkit, along with counseling and therapy, to just live day-to-day," Wolfe said.
Kratom is also used to help disabled veterans deal with chronic pain. Last week, Channel Six spoke with one of the many local vets who would be impacted by a kratom ban.
"I thought it was a miracle," the veteran who asked only to be referred to as Chris said about kratom. "I said this is great. This stuff is working for me."
But, despite raving reviews from Kratom users, there is little medical research that has studied kratom's effects on the body. And, the DEA and FDA have both issued warnings about kratom abuse.
"Kratom is abused for its ability to produce opioid-like effects and is often marketed as a legal alternative to controlled substances," the DEA said in an August 30 statement. "Law enforcement nationwide has seized more kratom in the first half of 2016 than in any previous year and easily accounts for millions of dosages intended for the recreational market."
The DEA claims U.S. poison centers received 660 calls related to kratom exposure from 2010 to 2015. But, to put that figure into perspective, there were more than 7,000 calls for children ingesting laundry detergent packs in the first six months of 2016.
Dr. Ryan Morrissey, the medical director at the Central Texas Poison Center, said each week he sees about one or two cases of someone ending up in the hospital because kratom caused them to stop breathing. In most cases, he said they were first time recreational kratom users who were treated and released. Generally speaking, he said kratom was not a top concern.
"There are way more prescribed opioids out there that are affecting thousands of people every year than the number of people who are abusing kratom," Dr. Morrissey said.
Eleven senators, including Bernie Sanders, have now joined 51 U.S. representatives in signing bipartisan letters, asking the DEA to halt the proposed ban and allow for more input from experts and the public.
If you are interested in weighing in on the issue, you can contact your federal lawmakers by calling the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121.
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