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The DEA's Contrived Kratom Crisis

The agency's ban on the pain-relieving leaf shows how arbitrary the government's pharmacological taboos are.

After the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced an "emergency" ban on kratom at the end of August, a spokesman for the agency said "our goal is to make sure this is available." The spokesman, Melvin Patterson, also told The Washington Post kratom does not belong in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, the law's most restrictive category, even though that is where the DEA had just put it.

Patterson added that kratom, which the DEA says has "no currently accepted medical use," is "at a point where it needs to be recognized as medicine." Confused? You're not alone. The DEA's ban on kratom, a pain-relieving leaf from Southeast Asia, shows how blithely and arbitrarily the government interferes with our freedom to control our own brains and bloodstreams.

Kratom, which acts as a stimulant or a sedative, depending on the dose, has been used for centuries in countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia to ease pain, boost work performance, and wean people from opiate addiction. In recent years the drug has gained a following in the United States, sold by online merchants and head shops as an herbal medicine, dietary supplement, or legal high.

That situation offended the DEA, which noted in the explanation of its ban that kratom had never been approved by the government for any use. If a psychoactive substance is not explicitly permitted, the DEA figures, it should be prohibited.

The agency apparently was surprised by the backlash against its kratom ban, which included angry phone calls to Capitol Hill, a demonstration near the White House, and letters from members of Congress. The DEA still intends to finalize the ban, although it did not take effect last Friday as expected.

Patterson, the DEA spokesman, said the reaction to the ban "was eye-opening for me personally." He added that "I want the kratom community to know that the DEA does hear them."

That attitude is quite a contrast to the deaf arrogance the DEA displayed when it announced that it was temporarily placing kratom in Schedule I, a classification that lasts at least two years and could become permanent. Declaring that a ban was necessary "to avoid an imminent hazard to public safety," the DEA summarily dismissed kratom's benefits while exaggerating its dangers.

The DEA describes all kratom use as "abuse." It was therefore easy for the agency to conclude that the plant has "a high potential for abuse," one of the criteria for Schedule I.

Since the DEA assumed there was no rational, morally acceptable reason to use kratom, it did not need to muster much evidence that the drug is intolerably dangerous. It claimed there have been "numerous deaths associated with kratom," by which it meant 30. In the whole world. Ever.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, alcohol causes about 88,000 deaths a year in this country, while 28,000 deaths were attributed to heroin and opioid painkillers in 2014. Kratom looks pretty benign by comparison.

Another point to keep in mind: "Deaths associated with kratom" are not necessarily caused by kratom. "Kratom is considered minimally toxic," noted a 2015 literature review in the International Journal of Legal Medicine. "Although death has been attributed to kratom use, there is no solid evidence that kratom was the sole contributor to an individual's death."

As further proof of kratom's dangers, the DEA noted that "U.S. poison centers received 660 calls related to kratom exposure" from 2010 through 2015, an average of 110 a year. By comparison, exposures involving analgesics accounted for nearly 300,000 calls in 2014, while antidepressants and antihistamines each accounted for more than 100,000.

As the DEA's contrived kratom crisis shows, there is little rhyme or reason to the government's pharmacological taboos, which are driven by unreasoning prejudice rather than science. The one overriding theme is that people cannot be trusted to weigh the risks and benefits of drugs for themselves.

© Copyright 2016 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  • meta||

    I am disappointed in the commentariat, gtg make breakfast now

  • SQRLSY One||

    The Kratomic Punk! (Let's Brew some Tea!)

    I am a victim of the drug-war age
    A child of the storm, whoa yes
    I can't remember when I was your age
    For me, it says no more, no more
    Nobody rules these streets at night like me, the kratomic punk!
    Whoa yeah, wow
    I am the ruler of these drug-war worlds
    The underground, whoa yes
    On every wall and place my fearsome name is heard
    Just look around, whoa yes
    Nobody rules these streets at night like me, the kratomic punk!
    Ooo, ahhh
    I am the ruler of these drug-war worlds
    The underground, oh, oh
    On every wall and place my fearsome name is heard
    Look around, whoa yeah
    Nobody rules these streets at night like me, nobody, ah
    The kratomic punk!

  • TGoodchild||

    The cited statistics involving kratom incidents are not really useful in judging its "danger" without more info on how prevalent its use is. Zero people were killed by nuclear weapons last year, you know.

  • Zeb||

    It has been widely used in SE Asia for a long time. If it were any significant danger, people would have noticed. In large doses it can cause nausea, which I bet accounts for most of the poison control calls and ER visits.

    In any case (and I imagine you agree), the presumption that any drug that hasn't been proven entirely safe should be banned is ridiculous and tyrannical.

    Zero people were killed by nuclear weapons last year, you know.

    That just means North Korea isn't getting creative enough with its execution methods.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    That just means North Korea isn't getting creative enough with its execution methods.

    You never know, maybe those nuclear tests doubled as mass executions of dissidents.

  • Zeb||

    That does seem right up Kim's alley. I would have thought they would publicize it, though.

  • ||

    "...how blithely and arbitrarily the government interferes with our freedom to control our own brains and bloodstreams."

    If the government is interfering with your control of your own body, it isnt really your body now is it? At least the government doesnt recognize it as such.

  • Doctor Whom||

    Kinda sorta OT: Ever notice how often someone who claims to be pro-choice has a meltdown when you suggest that choice over one's own body might extend beyond abortion?

  • sarcasmic||

    I had a very confusing conversation with some woman one time about school choice. I was talking about parents being able to choose where to send their kids to school, but she thought I was talking about kids getting abortions at school. She was so excited and enthusiastic before she figured out what I really meant. Then she became hostile.

    The term "choice" means abortion. Nothing else. That is the only choice we should be allowed. Everything else is up to our betters in government.

  • Lee Genes||

    but she thought I was talking about kids getting abortions at school

    You're joking, right?

  • sarcasmic||

    I wish I was.

  • sarcasmic||

    Like I said, it was a confusing conversation. To her the words "choice" and "abortion" were synonyms. I finally figured it out when she kept trying to correct me when I said "school choice" and she said "choice in school." She meant kids getting abortions in the nurse's office. I meant parents having a say in where their children are schooled. She found that idea to be absolutely abhorrent. Choices like that are not meant for parents. Only government can decide that.

  • Lee Genes||

    She meant kids getting abortions in the nurse's office.

    I'm really not sure what to say to that. That's astounding.

  • Tundra||

    From the patron saint of proggies:

    Knowledge of birth control is essentially moral. Its general, though prudent, practice must lead to a higher individuality and ultimately to a cleaner race.
    Birth control is nothing more or less than the facilitation of the process of weeding out the unfit, of preventing the birth of defectives or of those who will become defectives.

    ―Margaret Sanger

  • SugarFree||

    Banning contraceptives will cure the scourge of abortion once and for all.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    You know who else sought to weed out the "unfit" and "defective?"

  • sarcasmic||

    I'm really not sure what to say to that. That's astounding.

    It was to me as well. And she wasn't joking. Abortion is literally the only choice people (and by people I mean women) should be allowed to make. In her mind anyway. And she is not alone.

  • JaimeRoberto||

    I wonder what she thinks about a choice cut of meat.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    ...she thought I was talking about kids getting abortions at school. She was so excited and enthusiastic before she figured out what I really meant. Then she became hostile.

    *facepalm*

    Did you tell her to just shut the fuck up and go have some more cake?

  • ||

    "As the DEA's contrived kratom crisis shows, there is little rhyme or reason to the government's pharmacological taboos, "

    No? Do you think that alcohol prohibition enforcers were called 'revenuers' for no reason? How much tax money was collected from kratom sales last year? How much property seized because of its trade? It doesnt take a genius to figure out what is going on here.

  • Zeb||

    Do you think that alcohol prohibition enforcers were called 'revenuers' for no reason?

    Were they? I thought that was more pre-prohibition tax collectors. The income tax enabled prohibition by allowing the federal government to afford to lose the liquor tax revenue.

  • sarcasmic||

    It is immoral to use substances in the pursuit of happiness. The Supreme Nazgul have determined that Jefferson wrote that exception into the Declaration of Independence. It is so immoral that it must carry a punishment greater than that for rape or murder, because it is worse than rape or murder. It causes rape and murder.

    'Nuff said. If you disagree than you are as immoral as a rapist or a murderer, and merit no response other than a SWAT raid.

  • Doctor Whom||

    The all-important term in the Constitution is "Commerce...among the several States," which, as is known, was a popular 18th-century expression for "everything." No, you may not ask what the rest of Article I, § 8 was supposed to mean.

  • sarcasmic||

    sarc's official Cliff Notes for the Constitution.

    "The federal government shall do whatever is 'necessary and proper' to 'regulate commerce' and 'promote the general welfare'".

  • Hamster of Doom||

    They could get more done if we left it at that.

  • sarcasmic||

    Sadly, that is how the Supreme Nazgul see it. Those are the powers granted to the government, and the Bill of Rights (which of course don't mean what the words actually say, but in reality have may qualifiers) are the only restrictions.

  • Swiss Servator||

    "The federal government can do anything except stop aborshunz and buttsecks!"

    /prog reading

  • Doctor Whom||

    The Constitution is like the Bible in that, when "interpreted correctly," it means whatever the person "interpreting" it wanted to believe anyway. In the birth-control cases, SCOTUS held that marriage has special Constitutional status and, seven years later, that no, it doesn't.

  • Imithohtar||

    And that is why I cringe whenever I hear the word 'interpret' outside the context of language.

  • Mike Schmidt||

    From the linked WaPo story:

    "It's not a matter of if. It's simply a matter of when, in terms of DEA publishing the final order to temporarily schedule kratom," Baer said. "Our administrator [Chuck Rosenberg] has determined that kratom represents an imminent hazard to public safety. So I have a sense that publishing our final order will be sooner as opposed to later."

    So one single bureaucrat gets to decide whether or not it is an "imminent danger"? I'd say the chances of kratom not getting listed are slim considering Rosenberg said this a year ago:

    "What really bothers me is the notion that marijuana is also medicinal -- because it's not," Rosenberg said in a briefing to reporters. "We can have an intellectually honest debate about whether we should legalize something that is bad and dangerous, but don't call it medicine -- that is a joke."

  • Lee Genes||

    Rosenberg is a career prosecuting attorney for the federal government. It's not surprising at all that he would come down on that side of things. Those guys are sociopathic.

  • Zeb||

    We can have an intellectually honest debate about whether we should legalize something that is bad and dangerous

    The way he frames the debate makes me doubt that what he says is true.

  • MarkM||

    Aspirin would not be approved for use by the FDA today as it would be considered too dangerous. According to some researchers, each year, 15,000 people die and 100,000 people are hospitalized as the result of aspirin and other NSAIDs. That is far worse the kratom's record.

    Based on the description, there are probably legitimate medical uses for kratom - but because it is a supplement, most of the literature to date would not pass FDA scrutiny. See, e.g., http://www.sagewisdom.org/kratomguide.html ("The leaves of kratom have been used as an herbal drug from time immemorial by peoples of Southeast Asia. It is used in folk medicine as a stimulant (at low doses), sedative (at high doses), recreational drug, pain killer, medicine for diarrhea, and treatment for opiate addiction.")
    See also, http://www.slate.com/articles/.....earch.html
    Slate is actually right on this one. Schedule I status would make kratom and its derivatives very difficult to study and therefore difficult to establish if there is a "legitimate medical use".

  • AliciaMarie||

    Here is the kicker... Studies funded by the US Govt have proven it's value! They know it has value.. Just not the kind they want.
    http://www.google.com/patents/US20100209542

    Check it out. There's more from university's and what not, I've read them all (I think) but this one just gets me every time. That's a direct conflict between two(+) federal agencies opinions on this plant.

  • gah87||

    The Science President at work once again.

  • Lee Genes||

    "I want the kratom community to know that the DEA does hear them."

    In fact, we're calling the NSA right now and setting up some parallel reconstruction efforts.

  • Swiss Servator||

    *applause*

  • dantheserene||

    L.G.-
    Your between the lines reader app is awesome. Is it available for both iOS and Android?

  • Lee Genes||

    Just for Palm Pilot unfortunately

  • dantheserene||

    Dammit.

  • Ayn Random Variation||

    ỚT. Since uber price surging was a recent topic.....
    They suspended the path trains this morning 8n ny/nj. From what I hear its b3cause people are running around the tracks. Terrorists? Zombies? Clowns?

    Anyway so I'm taking uber to work and the 3.5x is the biggest surge I've ever I've ever run across.... oh well it's better than walking.

  • Lee Genes||

    You're going to sue, right? Can't let those evil kkkorporations price gouge like that.

  • Ayn Random Variation||

    I want to sue the Port Authority. They dont tell u the trains are suspended until after u pay the fare.

  • Lee Genes||

    That's nice.

  • sarcasmic||

    Can you negotiate with the driver?

  • Ayn Random Variation||

    No but I did choose the pool option for first time which is cheaper but I have to share to car. Difference between 25 and 10

  • Ayn Random Variation||

    Unfortunately now I'm touring my town picking up other people so I'm not choosing this pool option again

  • sarcasmic||

    That's a bummer. I used to negotiate with cabbies all the time. I'd say "This is how much I will pay you, will you give me a ride or not?" They usually agreed.

  • Ayn Random Variation||

    I've done that. But this is all done online on an app. Basically the negotiation is do u want to pay this? If not then just decline the car and try again in a bit. U can also choose to get a notification when the price lowers

  • sarcasmic||

    But this is all done online on an app. Basically the negotiation is do u want to pay this?

    That's what I figured.

  • Tundra||

    How much damage would the train sustain if it hit one of these people? That really should be the deciding factor.

  • Ayn Random Variation||

    In the pre 911 ny that's probably what they would do. But now every asshole is a potential terrorist

  • Monroe Feather, Jr.||

    This so-called "kratom" - I call it kraken, like the mythical sea monster because it actually turns actual people into actual monsters - is just the first "krak" in the armor. Oh, it starts with "pain relief" - never mind that, in our day, people just sucked it up and worked - but before you know it, you're snorting and injecting and inserting anything they'll sell you in the hopes you get HIGH.

    Don't fall for it, kids. Get high on LIFE.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Sadly, I can't tell if this is sarcasm or not. Poe's Law, FTW.

  • Zeb||

    Pretty sure it isn't serious. ______ Jr. isn't any kind of prohibitionist as far as I can tell.

  • Zeb||

    I was a little bit surprised to hear that Orrin Hatch is the more prominent legislator opposing this. I guess he's big on keeping "dietary supplements" unregulated. I think there is more opposition to this than the DEA expected. Hopefully that's a good sign.

  • dantheserene||

    All right-thinking people agree with DEA, and pushback is surprising and disappointing since they expected better from us, their children.

  • TOPDOG1||

    I am right thinking and not nieve. I think they are a gang of Authoritarian thugs who are misusing and abusing their authority. Over sixty percent of D.E.A. and F.D.A. personnel go to work for the pharmaceutical industry, If you think they are right thinking you are an idiot. These people are merely the arm of big pharma corporations and need to be controlled, These pro-drug war despots need to go.

  • John Thacker||

    A lot of individual states looked at banning it this past year, and most of them were extremely surprised at the level of opposition. North Carolina's GOP legislature decided instead of banning overall to ban sales to minors, but leave it legal for adults.

  • The Iconoclast||

    The need stuff to freak out about and justify their existence, particularly because they are losing weed.

  • Zeb||

    Greedy bastards. Aren't meth and "opioid epidemic" enough?

  • bassjoe||

    Kratom sounds a little like "crack", don't it, as well as a bit furrin? BAN IT!!!!!

  • victorlink||

    I'm really bothered by the fact that "The DEA still intends to finalize the ban.." At this point it's completely obvious that a huge mistake has been made on their end. People should be able to make up their own minds and find ways to manage their own health without the fear of becoming criminals. This decision is reckless and misguided, and I for one am not pacified by a "modified public comment period." An egregious error has been made here. Assumptions and knee-jerk reactions are never the appropriate way to handle things. Stopping the ban is required to prevent imminent harm to the public. Anything less would be an act of cruelty and a profound injustice to the American people.

  • John Thacker||

    The worst Catch 22 aspect of the whole thing is that Schedule I makes research nearly impossible, but it can't get off Schedule I without research. Schedule III or IV would still be overkill, but at least would have a modicum of sanity.

  • Rockabilly||

    All the fault rests on the democrat socialists and their interpretation of the US Constitution which claims that the federal government has unlimited powers.

  • TOPDOG1||

    Because of the misuse and abuse of responsibility and credibility as well as incompetence. The enforcement power of the D.E.A. should be removed and placed back into the hands of the state. A semi-secret elite police force within what is already a police state is way over the top. America does not need this throwback to the cold war era. These Federal offices have become a renegade authoritarian haven of despots and tyrants commandeering and miss-directing hundreds of millions into their drug war against citizens and likewise funding state police regimes both within the U.S. and worldwide.It is these federal agencies that have created the drug problem solely to commandeer funding and as their power base. These renegade authoritarians need to be controlled or removed.

  • TOPDOG1||

    Because of the misuse and abuse of responsibility and credibility as well as incompetence. The enforcement power of the D.E.A. should be removed and placed back into the hands of the state. A semi-secret elite police force within what is already a police state is way over the top. America does not need this throwback to the cold war era. These Federal offices have become a renegade haven of Authoritarian despots and tyrants commandeering and miss-directing hundreds of millions even billions into their drug war against citizens and likewise funding state police regimes both within the U.S. and worldwide.It is these federal agency's that have created the drug problem solely to commandeer funding and as their power base. Over sixty percent of D.E.A. employees go to work for the pharmaceutical industry. These renegade authoritarians need to be controlled or removed.

  • sandan51||

    I can say from personal experience that kratom has helped save my life. I was a chronic heroin user for years and couldnt stay clean if my life depended on it, and it very much does. people are dying left and right, our brothers,sisters,fathers,and mothers, and there needs to be something done about it. Legalizing yet another drug is certainly not the answer. Kratom is the safest and healthiest alternative to opiate use and it helped me to finally detox and quit. I tried things like suboxone and methadone and never had much success. The half life of those is longer than heroin so it stays in your system for a while and detoxing from those is very miserable. I found kratom to not have many detox symptoms at all, it was relatively painless. My life since has been great and I would recommend this to anyone who is struggling with opiod dependency. The lifestyle that comes along with addiction is truly hell on earth and I wouldnt wish it on my worst enemy.

  • best kratom vendor||

    According to the FDLE report from just this year, Kratom is not a risk to public health at all. This is RIDICULOUS and we must take a stand and FIGHT for our KRATOM. Best kratom vendor I am from indonesia and have help countless people in US for drug, alcohol addiction and save pain relief.

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