The Kratom Conundrum: Industry Seeks Congressional Support Amid Rising Overdose Concerns

In a strategic move to counter potential regulation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the American Kratom Association (AKA) is rallying its base to support new legislation in Congress. This initiative comes at a time when reports of kratom-related overdoses are increasing, igniting a contentious debate over the substance’s safety and efficacy.

The Legislative Push

The bill, led by Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah and co-sponsored by Democratic Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, aims to legalize the importation of kratom into the U.S. It also seeks to prohibit the FDA from regulating kratom as a new dietary ingredient. A companion bill has been introduced in the House by Representative Mark Pocan, a Wisconsin Democrat. The legislation would also establish a “Kratom Research Task Force” to report on the benefits and drawbacks of kratom within 90 days of the law’s adoption (Courthouse News).

  • Objective: To make the FDA accountable for what the AKA terms as “disinformation” against kratom.
  • Scope: The bill would allow the FDA to focus its resources on food contamination issues, including those related to kratom, such as salmonella and e-coli (FDA).

The Kratom Landscape

Kratom is a Southeast Asian tree whose leaves can be chewed, eaten, or brewed in tea. It has a dual nature: in low doses, it boosts stamina, while in high doses, it acts as a painkiller and mood relaxer. Despite being nominally illegal to import for human consumption due to an FDA “Import Alert” a decade ago, kratom remains legal in 45 states (National Institute on Drug Abuse).

The Regulatory Tug-of-War

The FDA has been cautious about kratom, stating that it is an unapproved new dietary ingredient with no proven medical use (FDA). On the other hand, the AKA accuses the FDA of waging a vendetta against kratom, claiming that the agency has used import alerts and other regulatory actions to circumvent the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) (Courthouse News).

Legal Challenges and Public Safety

Talis Abolins, an attorney who has sued kratom vendors on behalf of overdose victims’ families, argues that the proposed legislation is dangerous. Abolins’ firm won an $11 million award for a kratom-related death in Florida and a $2.5 million jury award in Washington state. He contends that kratom vendors have failed to meet premarket safety standards and are now trying to bypass these requirements through legislative means (Courthouse News).

The Overdose Dilemma

A study conducted in Florida between 2020 and 2021 found more than 500 overdose deaths related to kratom, 21 of which were attributed solely to kratom (Courthouse News). Despite this, the AKA maintains that these deaths are not conclusively linked to kratom.

The Road Ahead

As the debate rages on, the kratom industry finds itself at a crossroads. The proposed legislation could either pave the way for more comprehensive research and regulation or open the floodgates for a substance whose safety profile remains under scrutiny. What is clear is that both proponents and opponents of kratom are gearing up for a legislative battle that could have far-reaching implications for public health and individual freedoms.

In summary, the kratom industry is at a pivotal moment. With rising concerns about overdoses on one hand and a push for legislative freedom on the other, the coming months will be crucial in shaping the future of this controversial substance.