DEA: No Timetable for Kratom Ban

By Pat Anson, Editor

A spokesman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says there is no timetable yet for kratom to be formally classified as a Schedule I controlled substance – a move that would make the sale and possession of the herb a felony.

Under an emergency scheduling order published in the Federal Register last month, the DEA could schedule kratom as an illegal drug as early as Friday, September 30. But that appears to be increasingly unlikely.

“I don’t have a timetable. It could be this week, could be in the future, I just don’t know,” DEA spokesman Rusty Payne told Pain News Network.

Since the DEA announced its plans on August 30, online kratom suppliers have hurriedly shipped orders to deplete their inventory and tens of thousands of consumers have stocked up on the herb, which many use to treat chronic pain and other medical conditions.

An unprecedented grassroots lobbying campaign was also launched to get the DEA to reverse or postpone its decision. Over 135,000 people signed a petition asking the Obama administration to stop the DEA, and hundreds of kratom supporters rallied in front of the White House.  

A bipartisan group of congressmen in the House also signed a joint letter asking the agency to delay the scheduling of kratom to allow for public comment.

Now a second letter to the DEA is circulating in the U.S. Senate that calls the scheduling of kratom “unprecedented for a natural substance” and urges a delay.

The letter was drafted by Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, the powerful chair of the Senate Finance Committee, who has long maintained an interest in supporting the dietary supplement industry.

All of this has apparently made the DEA think twice about scheduling kratom, at least for the time being.

“What we’re hearing from the DEA today is that it’s not going to happen tomorrow (Friday), but that it’s still going to happen,” said Susan Ash, founder of the American Kratom Association, a consumer group that promotes the use of kratom for medical reasons.

“I’m hoping and praying for some kind of negotiation or compromise. But it sounds like the DEA has dug in because they’re trying to save face. The level of calls that they are receiving and the level of complaints there are receiving is nothing like ever before. We are not a bunch a bunch of drugged out people. If we were, we wouldn’t be on the phone to DEA, congress people and our senators pleading with them to step in and get a delay.”

Acting on the advice of the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the DEA moved to classify kratom as a Schedule I substance – alongside heroin, LSD and marijuana – without any public notice or comment. 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.

However, 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.  The vast majority said they use the herb in teas and supplements to treat chronic pain, anxiety, depression, addiction or other medical issues. And many say they will continue using kratom even if it is scheduled as a controlled substance.

“We need to be very careful about what we put into Schedule I, especially with limited data. I think that’s a huge mistake,” says John Burke, president of Pharmaceutical Diversion Education, which educates law enforcement and healthcare professionals about prescription drug abuse and diversion.

“What if it’s a legitimate drug that can help people? And now we’re going to make criminals out of them. I just think it’s awfully fast. I would hope that if it is Schedule I that it is given a huge window of research and experimentation. To me, if 6,000 people say it’s helping me, that tells me there’s a promise there and we ought to be exploiting it.”

If and when kratom is turned into a controlled substance, it will fall in line behind a long list of illegal drugs the DEA is already struggling – some would say failing -- to control.

“Our priorities would not change. Anybody that’s in violation of the CSA (Controlled Substance Act) runs the risk of arrest and prosecution,” says DEA spokesman Rusty Payne. “That said, right now our biggest problem is the opioid epidemic; fentanyl, heroin, prescription drugs, fentanyl compounds from China, designer synthetic drugs. That’s the biggest priority right now that we’re dealing with.”