Kratom, an herb that Suffolk County lawmakers proposed banning, was likened to heroin and a miracle cure by a dozen people speaking for and against the bill at a public hearing Tuesday.
The majority of speakers, including several Long Island residents who use kratom as an alternative painkiller, anti-depressant and anti-anxiety treatment, were opposed to making sales or distribution of the herb a misdemeanor punishable by fines up to $1,000 and one year in jail.
“This legislation, we believe, is misguided, misinformed and unwarranted,” said Chris Cartar, a 40-year-old Greenlawn man, member of the Botanical Legal Defense and kratom user who maintained it helps him manage pain stemming from a hockey injury. “We think that this is just a kneejerk reaction.”
The Food and Drug Administration, which deemed kratom a dietary supplement, banned its importation. The Drug Enforcement Administration termed it a drug of concern, although possession is legal on the federal level. Five states nationwide have also banned the herb, according to the American Kratom Association, and New York State lawmakers are also considering a ban.
Suffolk County Legis Steve Stern (D-Huntington), who’s term limited and running for Congress, proposed the ban in March out of concern that it’s a gateway drug to narcotics such as heroin. Cartar was one of eight speakers who urged the Democratic-controlled Suffolk Legislature to vote against the bill at their next meeting on May 10.
The four proponents included three local substance abuse experts and Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy Sini, who noted that detectives have noticed an increase in online chatter about kratom. Steve Chassman, executive director of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, questioned the effectiveness of anecdotal reports that some heroin addicts use kratom to get sober.
“This is not an evidence-based practice for opioid dependence treatment,” Chassman said. “Not everything that grows in Mother Earth is healthy.”
Proponents and opponents alike suggested that more research needs to be done to better understand kratom, although both sides differed on whether it’s addictive or has medicinal value. Several lawmakers noted that they never heard of kratom until Stern proposed banning it.
Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore), who indicated that he’s leaning toward voting for the ban, said, “The concern that I have…is this is not regulated.”