During a virtual meeting that starts at 6:30 p.m. today, February 16, the board of trustees for the Town of Monument will hear a presentation seeking to overturn the community's prohibition on sales of kratom, an herbal pain reliever of Southeast Asian origin.
Leading the charge will be Mac Haddow, senior fellow on public policy at the American Kratom Association. Haddow is one of the nation's leading advocates for the popular but controversial substance, which the federal Food and Drug Administration has spent the past several years demonizing — an effort that led Denver in November 2017 to require labeling that says kratom is not safe for human consumption. Nonetheless, efforts to classify kratom as a Schedule I narcotic, on par with heroin and cocaine, were rejected by the feds in 2018 — a development that Haddow accuses the FDA of trying to hush up for more than two years.
"The reason Monument is important is that this is middle America — and a prime example of where the FDA has misled local public-policy officials," he maintains.
Supporters of kratom, known in scientific circles as mitragyna speciosa, point out that it's a relative of coffee and portray it as a godsend for those seeking pain relief they'd otherwise have to address with prescription opiates. Kratom is also ballyhooed as a product that helps those hooked on opioids kick much more dangerous dependencies. While some users maintain that kratom is habit-forming, too, Haddow describes it as "a much, much less addictive substance."
Nonetheless, the Drug Enforcement Administration took steps to reclassify kratom as a Schedule I narcotic in August 2017 before changing course the next year in the face of public backlash, epitomized by a White House petition opposing the proposal that was signed by approximately 140,000 people and a letter from 51 U.S. senators and representatives, including then-congressman, now-Governor Jared Polis.
Despite this policy reversal, the FDA continued to issue health warnings about kratom in addition to taking more tangible actions. In November 2018, for instance, the agency, in conjunction with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, seized 540 kilos of the product ordered by Denver-based Kratom Cafe USA.
Such efforts ran counter to an August 16, 2018, letter from Brett Giroir, the administrator of the U.S. Public Health Service and senior advisor for opioid policy, to acting DEA administrator Uttam Dhillon. "I am rescinding our prior recommendation dated October 17, 2017, that the substances mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine be permanently controlled in Schedule I of the CSA [Controlled Substances Act]," he wrote. "HHS is instead recommending that mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine not be controlled at this time, either temporarily or permanently, until scientific research can sufficiently support such an action. Mitragynine and 7-OH-mitragynine are two of the constituents of the plant Mitragyna speciosa (M. speciosa), commonly referred to as kratom. This decision is based on many factors, in part on new data, and in part on the relative lack of evidence, combined with an unknown and potentially substantial risk to public health if these chemicals were scheduled at this time. Further research, which I am proposing to be undertaken, should provide additional data to better inform any subsequent scheduling decision."
letter only recently came to light, and Haddow doubts that's a coincidence, given what he sees as the FDA's bias against herbs used in health care. He believes the agency would prefer what he refers to as "Big Pharma" to create a synthetic version of kratom so that it can then be regulated and profitably marketed — while, in the meantime, millions of people who could be helped by the real thing are left to suffer.
Monument banned kratom sales in November 2019. "As I understand it, based on conversations I've had with them, they acted because of concerns communicated with them by the FDA — and they didn't want to have an unapproved drug for sale that children could access," Haddow says. "But there's no data that suggests children would use kratom in its natural form, because it tastes terrible and it doesn't have the euphoric high associated with recreational drugs. The only types of kratom products that do that are spiked with dangerous substances such as morphine and fentanyl, and we fully support banning them."
Indeed, such language is included in the Kratom Consumer Protection Act, which Haddow says a Colorado lawmaker plans to introduce during the 2021 session now getting under way. He adds that the American Kratom Association also backs age limitations of either eighteen or 21 on kratom sales — and points out that after his 2019 testimony in Castle Rock, which had been considering a wider ban, the town opted to allow its purchase by any legal adult.
For the most part, Haddow and the AKA try to stop restrictions before they've gone into effect, rather than have to persuade communities like Monument to dump bans. But he points out that commissioners in Monroe County, Mississippi, did just that in June 2020 after hearing from kratom advocates, and he hopes the Monument trustees will be similarly open-minded.
Mayor Don Wilson, who's a member of Monument's board of trustees, is noncommittal. "The American Kratom Association has volunteered this presentation, and the intent is for informational purposes," he allows. "The board does not have any planned actions at this time. The board may have some discussion after the presentation and may discuss options for increasing, decreasing or doing nothing in regards to the current kratom sales restrictions in the town. I am guessing nothing will drastically change. The previous restriction on kratom sales were by the request and recommendation of our former police chief, as he was not sure of the potential dangers of kratom and wanted to have the opportunity to further investigate."
Concludes Haddow: "I've been in hearings and city council meetings across the country and heard thousands of testimonials about kratom being a safer alternate for acute and chronic pain and how it's saved people from opiates — and in many cases, saved their lives. The FDA restrained its unsupportable claim that kratom should be scheduled, and now, we want to unwind the devastating impacts that's had in communities like Monument. These are well-intentioned officials who simply want to protect their community — and we hope to illuminate that discussion."
Click to read the Health and Human Services 2018 letter rescinding kratom scheduling and the American Kratom Association's January 2021 statement about that letter and more, as well as to learn how to participate in tonight's Monument Board of Trustees meeting.
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