Kratom becomes illegal tomorrow…or not

Democratic Rep. U.S. Lois Frankel has joined efforts to delay the DEA’s attempt to outlaw kratom tomorrow, claiming the drug – abused for its opioid-like effects – shows promise in treating addiction and outlawing the drug would halt research.

kratom2aFrankel is one of 51 members of Congress who signed a letter to DEA Acting Administrator Charles Rosenberg on Sept. 26, asking the agency to “engage consumers, researchers, and other stakeholders, in keeping with well-established protocol for such matters.”

On Aug. 30 the Agency filed notice in the Federal Register that it intended to place kratom’s active ingredients ― the opioids mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine ― on Schedule I, a list of drugs such as heroin that have no accepted medical and have a high potential for abuse.

Kratom is derived from a tree (Mitragyna speciosa korth) 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 currently 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 press release announcing the intention to ban kratom.

However, research funded 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.”

According to the letter sent 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 go into effect on Sept. 30. The ban 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 come medical use.

The response to the DEA’s announcement has been intense.

In a recent survey of 6,000 kratom users conducted by the Pain News Network and American Kratom Association,  98 percent of kratom users do not believe kratom is a harmful or dangerous substance; 75 percent said it is not possible to get “high” from kratom; and 95 percent said that making kratom illegal would be harmful or society.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers identified two exposures to kratom from 2000 and 2005. Between 2010 and 2015, U.S. poison centers received 660 calls related to kratom exposure.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) found that kratom abuse leads to agitation, irritability, tachycardia, nausea, drowsiness, and hypertension. Health risks found in kratom abusers include hepatotoxicity, psychosis, seizure, weight loss, insomnia, tachycardia, vomiting, poor concentration, hallucinations, and death.

DEA is aware of 15 kratom-related deaths between 2014 and 2016.


Florida bans dangerous opioid

U-47700 was one of the drugs found in the cocktail that killed Prince.

A dangerous opioid found in the cocktail that killed Prince was banned Tuesday in Florida.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi issued the emergency rule banning U-47700, a synthetic opioid that has been making its way into street drugs. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency is considering emergency action to ban the chemical, which is sometimes mixed with heroin and other opioids.

In a statement, Bondi called it a “new psychoactive substance.” That’s not completely true; the DEA reported seeing it in street use last year, but it was discovered decades ago.

Earlier this year, scientists said U-47700 was the only confirmed drug in 11 of 20 victims of unusual overdoses.The study was cited last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which noted a different unusual opioid, furanyl fentanyl, was in a deadly mix with cocaine.

The scientists warned of unusual drugs showing up in victims’ bodies:

” Given the widespread geographical distribution and increase in prevalence in postmortem casework, toxicology testing should be expanded to include testing for “designer opioids” in cases with histories consistent with opioid overdose but with no traditional opioids present or insufficient quantities to account for death.”

Bondi’s statement notes U-47700 has no accepted medical uses.

A number of other states have moved to ban the drug.

Bondi said in the statement that the chemical is usually found in powder or granular form. It can also be pressed into a pill form to look like a prescription drug, or be found in a liquid form or sometimes as a nasal spray.

Remembering Jose Fernandez in the snow, and the time I nearly dropped his glove

Just about every writer who has covered the Marlins over the last few years has a Jose Fernandez story. I’ve got quite a few, and the photographs to go with most of them.

Let’s start with a snow story.

Jose Fernandez, 19, on his first visit to the Marlins dugout on June 9, 2011, after the team drafted him in the first round.
Jose Fernandez, 19, on his first visit to the Marlins dugout on June 9, 2011, after the team drafted him in the first round.

It was late April 2013, a few months before I moved from the sports department to Metro, and the Marlins had just arrived in Minnesota for an interleague series at open-air Target Field. A steady snowfall forced a postponement of the first game.

In other words, the Miami Marlins got snowed out in Minneapolis.

In the visitors’ clubhouse, most players cursed the frigid conditions and bemoaned the next day’s chilly double-header. But Fernandez – who fled Cuba on a raft in 2008 – was giddy: He got to see and touch snow for the first time in his 21-year-old life.

Less than two years before the snow out, he toured the Marlins’ clubhouse at Pro Player Stadium in Miami for the first time as the team showed off their June 2011 first-round draft pick. Just 19, he grinned at every camera thrust into his face.

At spring training in 2013, he was invited to big league camp, which meant he participated in Photo Day. As he posed for a Topps photographer, he noticed me lurking a few feet away, taking photos with my iPhone.

When the photo session he ended, he walked over and asked me if I wouldn’t mind texting him the pictures I’d been taking. “I want to send them to my mother,’’ he said. He rattled off his cell phone number, then jogged away.jose-photo-day-2015

Two years later, he noticed me again lurking nearby as the Topps photographer directed him into various stances on Photo Day 2015.

“OK, Jose, take off your glove. I want you to fold your arms and look right at me,’’ photographer Steve Moore said.

Jose turned and yelled in my direction: “Yo!”

I’d been looking down at my iPhone and I looked up to see his bright orange glove flying right at me. I dropped my phone onto the grass and barely caught his glove.

When the photographer asked him to put the glove back on, Jose held out his hands, waiting for me to toss it back to him. I shook my head ‘no’ and walked the glove back to him. For a second, I thought his face wore a disappointed “are you serious?” expression, but I didn’t want to risk tossing that shiny orange glove onto the grass.
One May day at Dodger Stadium, he beat the Dodgers and then opened a folding chair on the grass in front of the visitors dugout. He sat down and watched a postgame fireworks display.

My favorite Jose story might’ve been the day in February 2014 when he was walking by the bleachers on a backfield. He noticed an old man sitting down. But what caught Jose’s eyes: The man had a walking cane made out of a baseball bat.

The guy was JW Porter, a retired major league catcher who once played with the likes of Mickey Mantle and Satchel Paige. Porter, who lives in Palm Beach Gardens, also used to work as an usher at Roger Dean Stadium.

Unsolicited, Fernandez climbed up a few rows of bleachers, his cleats clickety-clacking on the aluminum. He sat down next to Porter. For the next 20 minutes, the old catcher and the young pitching phenom talked baseball.

JW Porter and Jose Fernandez

On June 16, 2013, before my final home game as a Marlins beat writer, I watched Jose sign autographs for fans along the third-base line near the outfield wall at Marlins Park. He patiently signed everything put in front of him — balls and hats and jerseys. I stood a few feet away taking pictures.

Suddenly he realized he needed to get back to the clubhouse. But more autograph hounds were waiting for him along the railing and on top of the dugout.

“Hey,” he said to me as we walked toward the dugout. “Ask me some questions.”jose-signs-june-2013

I quickly caught on: He didn’t want it to look like he was blowing off the fans. So, I acted as his decoy and conducted a fake interview. As we fast-paced toward the dugout, I scribbled I-can’t-remember-what into my notebook as Jose mumbled over and over to me, “Thank you, man.”

Baseball scribes have an unusual coexistence with the players they cover. Athletes get to know writers over the course of a season. But we don’t become fast pals. Most players know a writer’s purpose is to report and write the news.

Photo by Allison Williams
Photo by Allison Williams

I wasn’t close with Jose, and the interactions I’ve described shouldn’t suggest that he was any more congenial with me than he was with any other writer.

In  all honesty, I’m not sure he actually knew or remembered my name.

His tragic death on Sunday brought back memories of another painfully loss more than 50 years ago. About a month before my ninth birthday, I woke up at home in suburban Pittsburgh on New Year’s Day 1973 to news that Pirates outfielder Roberto Clemente had died in a plane crash.

Jose’s untimely passing at the age of 24 hurts just as bad. Maybe more because of his off-the-field moments of joy that I was fortunate to have witnessed.


Two Florida prisons on lockdown

By Pat Beall

Violent incidents involving multiple inmate dorms this morning triggered lockdowns at two Florida prisons, Gulf Correctional Institutional Annex and Mayo Correctional Institutional.

The disturbances come after widespread inmate violence at Holmes Correctional earlier this week, and amid a nationwide call for prison inmates to strike Friday, the 45th anniversary of the inmate uprising at New York’s Attica prison.

Image courtesy of David Dominici @
Image courtesy of David Dominici @

Wednesday night, several hundred inmates at Holmes were involved in what the Florida Department of Corrections described as a “disturbance.” One inmate was injured. Property damage is being assessed. That prison is also on lockdown.

One minor injury to an inmate is reported in today’s flareups at Gulf and Mayo prisons.

“Across the state, there have been a few minor pockets of inmates refusing to work,” said Florida Department of Corrections spokesman Alberto C. Moscoso. “However, these issues were quickly resolved and those prisons not on lockdown are operating normally.”

Mayo, Gulf and Holmes prisons are all in the Florida Panhandle.

Florida CVS stores now sell Narcan: No prescription needed

Three months after announcing it would expand access to the opioid antidote Narcan in Florida, select CVS stores are now selling the drug without a prescription.

The pharmacy giant announced in May that it would expand access in seven additional states, including Florida. Naloxone, the generic version of Narcan, is already available without a prescription at CVS pharmacies in 23 states. However,  in Florida a prescription is still necessary.fullsizerender-3

CVS Health’s naloxone program establishes a standing order with a physician in the state, which permits CVS pharmacists to dispense naloxone to patients without a prescription.

Although CVS will offer both Narcan and the less expensive naloxone, some stores do not yet carry both.  A two-dose package of the nasal spray purchased in West Palm Beach on Tuesday cost $126.45.

It’s a drug that needs to be on hand. If someone is overdosing, there won’t be enough time to run to the store and buy it.

“Expanding access to the overdose-reversal drug naloxone is a critical part of our national strategy to stop the prescription drug and heroin overdose epidemic – along with effective prevention, treatment, and enforcement,” said Michael Botticelli, director of National Drug Control Policy.

Although naloxone can quickly reverse an overdose — with people going from unconscious to walking and talking within seconds — the person must still be taken to an emergency room immediately. When the naloxone wears off, severe withdrawal symptoms often set in and the person may experience another overdose when the drug wears off.

“I am a firm believer all certified sober residences should have naloxone on board,” said John Lehman, president of the Florida Association of Recovery Residences, the Boca Raton-based non-profit that oversees voluntary certification of sober homes for the state.

Rebel Recovery Florida, the state chapter of the national non-profit Rebel Recovery, has conducted training in 10 treatment centers and 12 sober homes in Palm Beach County on how to use naloxone, said Justin Kunzelman, co-founder of the Florida chapter.


As a run-up to Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, new baseball exhibit opens today at history museum

Debi Murray shows off a mannequin wearing a uniform loaned by All Star second baseman Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros. The uniform is on display at a new baseball exhibit that opened today at the Palm Beach County History Museum. Murray is chief archivist of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County.
Debi Murray shows off a mannequin wearing a uniform loaned by All Star second baseman Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros. The uniform is on display at a new baseball exhibit that opened today at the Palm Beach County History Museum. Murray is chief archivist of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County.

A new baseball exhibit opens today at the Richard and Pat Johnson Palm Beach County History Museum in downtown West Palm Beach.

The exhibit — “For the Love of the Game: Baseball in the Palm Beaches” — offers an impressive microcosm of how baseball and the local area have influenced each other since the 1897 when Henry Flagler built a baseball diamond to entertain his hotel guests on Palm Beach.

It covers the area’s 120 history with baseball, including the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, the new spring training home of the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros.

The exhibit, which runs through next July, was planned to open today as a run-up to the new spring training facility south of 45th Street and west of Interstate 95.

Many artifacts were loaned by local residents.