After a barrage of complaints, the Drug Enforcement Administration filed notice this morning that it will reverse its controversial decision to outlaw Kratom – a plant abused for its opioid-like effects but now showing promise in treating opioid withdrawal symptoms.
According to a notice filed in the Federal Register on Wednesday, the DEA “has received numerous comments from members of the public challenging” its decision to outlaw two drugs found in Kratom.
On Aug. 30 the agency filed notice in the Federal Register that it intended to place kratom’s active ingredients, which are opioids on Schedule I, a list of drugs such as heroin that have no accepted medical and have a high potential for abuse.
Among those questioning DEA’s swift decision to outlaw the drug were 51 members of Congress who signed a letter to DEA acting Administrator Charles Rosenberg asking the agency to “engage consumers, researchers, and other stakeholders, in keeping with well-established protocol for such matters.” The DEA moved quickly, giving people only 30 days to weigh in on the ban.
Kratom is derived from a tree grown in Southeast Asia. It has become increasingly marketed and sold to recreational drug users as an alternative to controlled substances. Kratom is legal but is on the DEA’s “drugs of concern” list.
Law enforcement has seized kratom in various forms, including powder, plant, capsules, tablets, liquid, gum/resin and drug patch. Because the identity and purity levels are uncertain and inconsistent, “they pose significant health risk to users,” according to a DEA news release announcing the intention to ban kratom.
However, research financed by the National Institutes of Health at the University of Mississippi and University of Massachusetts found that a kratom extract, mitragynine, could be useful in treating opioid withdrawal.
In 2010 the schools applied for a patent. According to the patent application, “the present invention contemplates that kratom extract may also be useful for the treatment of other addictive drugs besides opiate derivatives.”
In the letter sent by lawmakers to the DEA, outlawing kratom “will put a halt on federally funded research and innovation surrounding the treatment of individuals suffering from opioid and other addictions — a significant health threat.”
The ban proposed by DEA would sunset after two years and the agency could downgrade kratom to less restrictive Schedule 3 to 5 — drugs that are less addictive and have some medical use.
The DEA will accept comment from the public until Dec. 1. During that time the Food and Drug Administration will conduct a scientific and medical evaluation of Kratom.
Linda Mautner, who blames her son Ian’s suicide in July 2014 on addiction to kratom, said she was not discouraged by the DEA’s action on Wednesday. Mautner, who established a foundation to help addicts and alcoholics in early recovery, said she is “all for research.”
“A waiting period is good,” Mautner said. “If they (DEA) are going to get this nailed down, they certainly need to review all sides.”