DEA Banning Kratom, Herb Eyed by Suffolk Pols

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Possessing kratom, an herb Suffolk County lawmakers proposed banning—sparking a local debate over whether it’s addictive or has medicinal value—will be illegal nationwide starting Sept. 30, federal authorities announced Tuesday.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is classifying mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, the active ingredients in Kratom, as Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act, effectively making possession of the herb a crime, the agency said. Users that tout its effectiveness as an alternative painkiller, anti-depressant, anti-anxiety and addiction treatment were saddened by the news.

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“Kratom is abused for its ability to produce opioid-like effects and is often marketed as a legal alternative to controlled substances,” the DEA said in a statement. “Kratom has a high potential for abuse, has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and has a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision.”

The Food and Drug Administration, which deemed kratom a dietary supplement grown in Asia, previously banned its importation. Before the DEA acted, New York State debated joining several states that banned the herb. Suffolk County’s proposed ban was tabled and never came up for a vote before the legislature.

“There’s always a danger when someone resorts to self-medication, particularly in an attempt to overcome serious health problems,” said Suffolk Legis. Steve Stern (D-Huntington), who proposed banning the herb on eastern Long Island. Stern said he’s in talks to discuss whether the proposal will move forward now that the DEA is banning the herb. He’s also proposed banning U-47700, a synthetic opioid reportedly linked to the death of Prince.

Stern expressed concern that kratom is being used a gateway drug fueling the heroin and opioid epidemic gripping LI and the nation. Members of law enforcement, substance abuse experts and medical professionals backed the ban, but some local users urged lawmakers not to prohibit the herb, which they maintain is useful in combating the epidemic.

“Kratom is demonstrably safer than most of the items that are being proposed such as Suboxone and Methadone for curing addictions like heroin,” resident John Gerbitz told the legislature on April 12. “It simply facilitates a state of well-being and its effects are mild and unobtrusive…It’s a tool to fight addiction.”

Kratom proponents planned to continue fighting for the herb.

“We will be working with our advisors to determine how best to approach and unwind this situation, if at all possible,” Paul Kemp of the American Kratom Association said in a statement. “We hope the kratom community will stay calm and work together to defuse this terrible mistake by the DEA.”

The DEA’s decision to temporarily classify kratom’s active ingredients as Schedule 1 drug is expected to be published in the Federal Register on Wednesday. The ban will then take effect in 30 days. The DEA will then move to make the ban permanent.