By Pat Anson, Editor
Hundreds of protestors chanting “kratom saves lives” and “I am kratom” rallied in front of the White House today, hoping to turn their passion for an herb into a movement that stops the Drug Enforcement Administration from making kratom illegal.
“This stuff saved my life. It gave me my life back,” said one protestor.
Kratom comes from the leaves of a tree that grows in southeast Asia, where it has been used for centuries as a natural medicine. In recent years, kratom has grown in popularity in the United States, where it is made into teas and supplements as a treatment for pain, depression, anxiety and addiction.
All of that may change on September 30th, when the DEA plans to schedule the two main active ingredients in kratom as Schedule I controlled substances -- alongside heroin and LSD. That would effectively make the sale and possession of kratom a felony.
Under its emergency scheduling order, the DEA invited no public comment and held no public hearings.
“Stop this ban immediately. You’re trying to protect your jobs. You’re not trying to save Americans,” said Ryan Connor, a military veteran who lost a sister to a heroin overdose. “If you take away this herb, more and more people are going to die."
Connor said he uses kratom to treat his own opioid addiction.
“I’ve been on every opioid under the sun. I was on Suboxone. I was told it was a cure for addiction, but it did not cure my addiction. In fact, it made it worse. I used kratom to get off Suboxone. It was painless. I had zero side effects from it. And I think as Americans we have the right to choose our health over getting poisoned by pharmaceuticals,” Connor said.
In a notice published in the Federal Register, the DEA said an emergency scheduling of kratom was necessary because it has no approved medical use. The DEA claimed the herb was being used recreationally for its "psychoactive effects" and as a substitute for heroin.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also issued a report last month calling kratom "an emerging public health threat." The agency said there were 660 calls to U.S. poison control centers about kratom in the last six years. About 8 percent of the calls involved a life threatening condition. One death was reported.
Kratom supporters say the death was more likely caused by prescription drugs and that kratom actually saves lives.
“It changed my life. It rescued me from a very severe addiction to narcotics. It took me out of a home and bed-bound existence. It gave me the energy and pain control that I needed,” said Susan Ash, who founded the American Kratom Association, which organized the rally outside the White House.
“We want a regular scheduling process that involves public comment and the best available science, and not just a note from the CDC that said they got all of 660 calls to poison control when they’re getting three to four million calls a year. How do 660 calls make an emerging public health threat?”
Kratom supporters have gotten over 120,000 signatures on an online petition asking the Obama administration to stop the DEA from scheduling kratom as a Schedule I substance. Under its "We the People" petition rules, the administration promises to "take action" on a petition within 60 days if supporters are able to gather at least 100,000 signatures.
According to the website whpetitions.info, the average response time for a successful White House petition is well over 100 days – not 60 days. Six petitions -- including the kratom petition -- are currently waiting for a response.
Meanwhile, the Center for Regulatory Effectiveness (CRE), a government watchdog group, has asked the DEA to postpone the scheduling of kratom.
In a September 12 letter to acting DEA Administrator Charles Rosenberg, a CRE official pointed out that the National Institutes of Health has conducted research to explore the therapeutic value of kratom as a treatment for chronic pain and substance abuse.
“The research was so well conducted and received by the scientific community that the aforementioned institutions applied for a patent. How much more additional evidence is needed to demonstrate that the DEA has acted arbitrarily in issuing a ban on kratom?” asked Jim Tozzi, a member of the CRE Board of Advisors.
“In short, without going through a notice and comment process, DEA is obviating another agency’s research that was conducted with appropriated funds. With its action, DEA is also obviating the progress and promise of kratom research to boosting the American bio-sciences industry.”
Tozzi’s letter said the DEA’s “rush to judgement” may have violated the federal Data Information Quality Act and was a “clear and flagrant abuse of discretion.”
He asked the DEA to extend the effective date for scheduling kratom to July 1, 2017, to allow for public comment and a peer review of the science behind the agency’s decision.