Lawmakers Ask DEA to Delay Kratom Ban

By Pat Anson, Editor

A bipartisan group of nearly 50 congressmen have signed a letter asking the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to delay a decision that would classify kratom as a Schedule I controlled substance, a move that would make the sale and possession of the herb a felony offense.

The letter, which is being sent to acting DEA administrator Charles Rosenberg, was written and circulated on Capitol Hill by Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin) and Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Arizona). A second letter is being sent to Shaun Donovan, the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), urging him to use his “statutory authority” to delay the DEA’s regulatory action.

“While Republicans and Democrats are having a difficult time seeing eye-to-eye on many critical issues, and in the midst of a very busy election cycle, it is unprecedented to see so many join forces together, agreeing that the DEA has overstepped its emergency scheduling authority,” said Susan Ash, founder of the American Kratom Association, a consumer group lobbying against the DEA scheduling.

The letters are signed by 28 Democrats and 21 Republicans in the House, including two physicians, Rep. Daniel Banishek (R-Michigan) and Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio).

"We urge the DEA to delay finalizing the decision to define Kratom as a schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act and to engage consumers, researchers, and other stakeholders, in keeping with well-established protocol for such matters,” states the letter to the DEA administrator. 

"A departure from such guidelines threatens the transparency of the scheduling process and its responsiveness to the input of both citizens and the scientific community."

Under its emergency scheduling order, the DEA said it would classify kratom as a Schedule I substance – alongside heroin, LSD and marijuana – without any public notice or comment. The order could be implemented as early as September 30.  The DEA maintains that kratom – which comes from the leaves of a tree that grows in Southeast Asia -- poses “an imminent hazard to public safety” and has been linked to several deaths.

In a survey of over 6,000 kratom consumers by Pain News Network and the American Kratom Association, 98 percent said kratom was not a harmful or dangerous substance and 95% said banning the herb will have a harmful effect on society.  Many said they use the herb in teas and supplements to treat chronic pain, anxiety, depression and other medical conditions.

The congressional letter to OMB director Donovan points out that the National Institutes of Health has funded kratom research at the University of Massachusetts and the University of Mississippi. Those studies led researchers to apply for a patent identifying mitragynine – an active ingredient in kratom -- as a useful treatment for opioid addiction.

“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,” the letter to Donovan states. “We urge your agency to immediately utilize your statutory authority and delay the process to place Kratom in schedule I until sufficient public comment is received and inconsistencies between Federal Agencies view of the product are addressed.”

It’s unclear what impact the two letters will have, but kratom supporters hope the involvement of a bipartisan group of congressmen will put more political pressure on the Obama administration. A citizens petition to the White House urging the administration to delay the DEA decision has been signed by over 135,000 people.  

“This will send a very clear message that Congress will not sit idly by and allow grandparents, parents, disabled people, and professionals in everything from law enforcement to the medical field, to be turned into felons for responsibly using the one thing that provides them with relief,” said Susan Ash.

“Kratom can help ease suffering. While our nation is in the midst of the worst opiate and heroin epidemic crisis we've ever seen, this little plant holds the key to many Americans' health and well-being and is helping to reduce the staggering, terrifying rise in opiate overdose deaths.”

DEA Head Calls Kratom an "Opioid"

None of this has apparently swayed the acting administrator of the DEA, who called kratom an "opioid" at a recent public forum on opioid addiction at Georgetown University.

"Kratom, as you know, is an opioid in its classification, so this is a good place to talk about it,"  Charles Rosenberg said in response to a student's question.

Kratom is not a member of the opium poppy family, where traditional opioids come from. But kratom leaves do contain mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, alkaloids that act on the same receptors in the brain as opioids. For that reason, the DEA is calling kratom an opioid.

"The FDA has decided, ruled, after its considered judgement that there is no medical value. We are bound by its scientific determinations in that arena. It's in Schedule I therefore because it has no medical value, there is a high potential for abuse, and most importantly we're now getting data from folks around the country that people are dying from kratom overdoses," Rosenberg explained. "So if we made an error and perhaps some people think we did, I frankly do not, then we aired on the side of protecting the public and I'm okay with that."

Below is a list of congressmen who have signed the letters to Rosenberg and Donovan:

  • Mark Pocan - D - WI
  • Matt Salmon - R - AZ
  • John Conyers - D - MI
  • Hank Johnson - D - GA
  • Tim Ryan - D - OH
  • Jared Polis - D - CO
  • Adam Smith - D - WA
  • Dana Rohrabacher - R - CA
  • Daniel Benishek, MD - R - MI
  • Steve Cohen - D - TN
  • Joe Heck, D.O. - R - NV
  • John Yarmuth - D - KY
  • Mark Sandord - R - SC
  • Mick Mulvaney - R - SC
  • Steve Israel - D - NY
  • Gerald E. Connolly - D - VA
  • Betty McCollum - D - MN
  • Earl Blumenauer - D - OR
  • Tulsi Gabbard - D - HI
  • Michael Honda - D - CA
  • Gwen Moore - D - WI
  • Brad Wenstrup, MD - R - OH
  • Tom Graves - R - GA
  • Justin Amash - R - MI
  • Barbara Lee - D - CA
  • Raul Labrador - R - ID
  • Peter DeFazio - D - OR
  • Scott Tipton - D - CO
  • Julia Brownley - D - CA
  • H. Morgan Griffith - R - VA
  • Jim Costa - D - CA
  • Suzan DelBene - D - WA
  • Denny Heck - D - WA
  • Zoe Lofgren - D - CA
  • Scott Peters - D - CA
  • Suzanne Bonamici - D - OR
  • Ted Poe - R - TX
  • Dave Brat - R - VA
  • Tom Emmer - R - MN
  • Paul Gosar - R - AZ
  • MIchael Capuano - D - MA
  • Bobby Scott - D - VA
  • Steve King - R - IA
  • Lois Frankel - D - FL
  • Leonard Lance - R - NJ
  • Frank LoBiondo - R - NJ
  • Steve King - R - IA
  • Barry Loudermilk - R - GA
  • Richard Hudson - R- NC