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Jared Polis Asks FDA to Lift Public-Health Warning on Kratom

A protest at the Colorado State Capitol in September 2016, during a period when the Drug Enforcement Administration was advocating for labeling kratom as a Schedule I narcotic.
A protest at the Colorado State Capitol in September 2016, during a period when the Drug Enforcement Administration was advocating for labeling kratom as a Schedule I narcotic. Rocky Mountain Kratom Facebook
Overdoses related to prescription opioids have quadrupled since 2000, a fact not lost on this state's politicians. A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers will introduce six bills during the 2018 session of the Colorado Legislature session that target the epidemic, and just before Christmas, Representative Jared Polis asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to lift its public-health warning on kratom, or what the Democrat from Boulder calls a "natural alternative to opioids."

"The beneficial potential, safety, and efficacy of kratom has been discussed, studied, clinically researched and found to be as safe as coffee," states the letter, which was signed by seventeen lawmakers. "We have heard from many constituents who have used kratom to successfully end their dependence on dangerous opioids, and maintaining legal access to kratom is important for many Americans to maintain sobriety."

click to enlarge JARED POLIS
Jared Polis
In a November announcement addressing kratom, the FDA acknowledged that the plant, grown in places like Thailand and Malaysia, is used to treat pain, anxiety and depression. But FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb said he doesn't see a significant difference between kratom and the opioids they supposedly replace. "Importantly, evidence shows that kratom has similar effects to narcotics like opioids, and carries similar risks of abuse, addiction and in some cases, death. Thus, it’s not surprising that often kratom is taken recreationally by users for its euphoric effects.

"At a time when we have hit a critical point in the opioid epidemic," Gottlieb continued, "the increasing use of kratom as an alternative or adjunct to opioid use is extremely concerning."

Polis's letter aims to provide context for many of the statistics cited in Gottlieb's November announcement, including the fact that calls to U.S. poison control centers about kratom increased tenfold from 2010 to 2015. "Regarding the FDA's concerns with the increase in calls to Poison Control Centers," it states, "the Agency is citing a July 2016 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that states that there were less than thirty calls in 2010 and then 263 calls in 2015. To put this number in perspective, in 2014 alone, Poison Control Centers received over 4,000 calls regarding energy drink consumption and possible poisoning. Scientific research, expert testimony, and Poison Control Center data have shown that kratom is far less dangerous than energy drinks."

Denver Environmental Health recently prohibited the sale of kratom for human consumption.
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Ana Campbell has been Westword's managing editor since 2016. She has worked at magazines and newspapers around the country, picking up a few awards along the way for her writing and editing. She grew up in south Texas.
Contact: Ana Campbell