In the corridors of Washington, D.C., a complex debate is unfolding around kratom, a Southeast Asian tree with leaves that have sparked both enthusiasm and concern. Amid a rise in reported overdose deaths, the American Kratom Association (AKA) is taking the legislative route, urging kratom users and sellers to support new bills in Congress. This proactive step aims to preempt any potential regulation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The Legislative Push
The AKA, a nonprofit funded by kratom vendors and consumers, has been a key player in preventing kratom from being classified as an illegal drug. The organization’s latest legislative initiative involves a bill introduced by Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah and co-sponsored by Democratic Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey. This bill aims to legalize the importation of kratom into the U.S. and establish a “Kratom Research Task Force.” The task force would be responsible for studying the substance’s pros and cons within 90 days of the law’s enactment. A companion bill has also been introduced in the House by Wisconsin Democrat Mark Pocan, as reported by Courthouse News.
The FDA’s Stance
For the past decade, the FDA has maintained an “Import Alert” on kratom, categorizing it as an unapproved new dietary ingredient. The agency has consistently voiced concerns about the safety and medical efficacy of kratom. Mac Haddow, AKA’s principal lobbyist, contends that the FDA’s actions have sidestepped the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and hindered Americans’ ability to make informed decisions about kratom use.
Overdose Deaths and Legal Battles
While the AKA argues that the number of reported kratom overdoses is increasing, they assert that this doesn’t necessarily correlate with actual kratom overdose deaths. This perspective is in stark contrast to legal professionals like Talis Abolins, an attorney who has successfully sued kratom vendors on behalf of families of overdose victims. Abolins argues that the proposed legislation is a public safety risk, especially given the recent court rulings and jury awards in kratom-related death cases.
The Science and Public Opinion
Kratom is currently legal to possess in 45 states, with some imposing age restrictions. More than a million Americans reportedly use kratom for various reasons, including chronic pain and opioid withdrawal symptoms. However, no studies have definitively proven its efficacy. The substance exists in a gray market served by online sellers, kava bars, and convenience stores.
The legislative push by the AKA and the proposed bills in Congress represent a critical juncture in the kratom debate. With overdose deaths on one side and potential medical benefits on the other, the kratom issue is far from settled. What is clear is that the coming months will be pivotal in shaping the legal and medical landscape for kratom in the United States.