By Pat Anson, Editor
The U. S. Drug Enforcement Administration, which refused to allow any kind of public comment on its decision to make the sale and possession of kratom illegal, has reversed course and will now allow a “modified comment process.”
The DEA could have classified two active ingredients in kratom as Schedule I controlled substances on Friday, September 30, but apparently caved in to political pressure to leave the legal status of the herbal supplement unchanged, at least for the time being.
The decision was made public by Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan (D), who circulated a letter on Capitol Hill this week urging the DEA to postpone its decision. A bipartisan group of 51 congressmen signed the letter.
“Congressman Mark Pocan had a productive conversation with the acting (DEA) administrator today and learned that the DEA will be not announcing a final decision on kratom today,” Pocan’s office said in a statement released on Twitter.
“It appears the DEA will instead open up a modified comment process before a final decision will be made. While we do not know the exacting timing or details of the new comment period for kratom, Acting Administrator Rosenberg assured Congressman Pocan that we will find out more in the near future.”
No further details were released by Pocan or the DEA, although kratom activists were encouraged by the development.
“The DEA will be releasing a statement in the next few days about opening a public comment period and exactly what that will look like. Obviously we are going to need to flood them with comments!” said Susan Ash, founder of the American Kratom Association in a Facebook post.
“Aside from every single person writing in with their testimonies, we will need to get as many medical professionals (preferably MDs) and scientists to submit comment and testimony as we possibly can to challenge the claims that Kratom is an opiate and that it has no medicinal use.”
As Pain News Network has reported, in recent days it appeared increasingly unlikely the DEA would follow through on its threat to schedule kratom as a controlled substance – alongside heroin, LSD and marijuana – because of growing pressure from the public and Congress.
In an emergency scheduling order published in the Federal Register on August 30, the DEA said 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.
Kratom supporters, however, say the herb is relatively harmless and is very effective at relieving symptoms of chronic pain, anxiety, depression and other medical conditions. Questions were also raised about the process the DEA used in making decision, which gave no public notice and solicited no public comment.
In addition to Pocan’s letter, a dozen U.S. senators have signed letters urging the DEA to delay scheduling kratom and to solicit more public input.
“Congress granted emergency scheduling authority to the DEA based on the need for law enforcement interdiction of new and previously unknown illegal synthetic street drugs that result in injuries and death. The use of this emergency authority for a natural substance is unprecedented,” Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) said a a draft letter to acting DEA administrator Charles Rosenberg.
“Given the long reported history of Kratom use, coupled with the public’s sentiment that it is a safe alternative to prescription opioids, we believe using the regular review process would provide for a much-needed discussion among all stakeholders.”
Sen. Hatch’s involvement in the kratom controversy is important because he is a longtime supporter of the dietary supplement industry. As the powerful chair of the Senate Finance committee, Hatch also plays in a major role in determining the DEA’s budget.
Exactly what the DEA means by a “modified comment process” remains to be seen. The decision is reminiscent of a delay announced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last December, when its draft opioid prescribing guidelines were met with sharp criticism by healthcare advocacy groups, patients and doctors.
The CDC opened a 30-day public comment period and received over 4,000 public comments – most of them opposing the guidelines. But in the end, very few changes were made to the opioid guidelines, which are now being widely adopted by prescribers. Many chronic pain patients say they are now unable to obtain the opioids they were safely prescribed for years.