Internet Wins a Historic Fight Against the DEA

October 12th 2016

Less than two months after the Drug Enforcement Administration announced plans to ban kratom — a plant that produces an opioid-like effect and is commonly used as an alternative to prescription painkillers — the agency has reversed its decision.

kratom-pills Wikimedia Commons - wikimedia.org

On Wednesday, the DEA said that widespread criticism of its kratom ban prompted it to take a few steps back. The agency now plans to extend a public comment period through December 1 to get input from researchers and critics of the ban, and it's also soliciting the Food and Drug Administration's help for an expedited "scientific and medical evaluation and scheduling recommendation" for kratom.

Here's what DEA Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg wrote in the Federal Register:

"Since publishing that notice [of the ban on kratom], DEA has received numerous comments from members of the public challenging the scheduling action and requesting that the agency consider those comments and accompanying information before taking further action... DEA is therefore taking the following actions: DEA is withdrawing the August 31, 2016 notice of intent; and soliciting comments from the public regarding the scheduling of [the two main ingredients of kratom] under the Controlled Substances Act."

To drug reform advocates, the DEA reversal is a welcomed development. Users, advocates, researchers, and even federal lawmakers have criticized the agency's move to classify kratom as a Schedule 1 drug (the most restrictive category) under federal law. The lack of a public comment period and abruptness of the ban frustrated many who point to the potential therapeutic value of the plant.

"I think it's refreshing that the DEA is in a position where they have to consider the science and they have to consider public opinion with respect to an enforcement action such as the one that they proposed here with kratom," Grant Smith, Deputy Director of National Affairs with the Drug Policy Alliance, told ATTN:. "The DEA has a long track record of ignoring science and making enforcement decision based on what serves the best interest of that agency."

It's uncertain how the FDA will rule in its expedited evaluation of kratom, but Smith notes that the current scheduling system has made it difficult to effectively assess the medical value of plant-based medicine. As ATTN: recently reported, the FDA has expressed concern about the drug scheduling system with respect to cannabis.

kratomWikimedia - wikimedia.org

"There's an evidence base that supports research looking at [kratom's] therapeutic use," Smith said. "Anecdotally, we understand that people around the world use kratom for therapeutic reasons, especially as a supplement to treat pain, as a replacement therapy, and for other condition. But the scheduling system we have now is grounded around the principle that there must FDA-approved use."

If the FDA determines that kratom has no accepted medical use, it technically qualifies as a Schedule 1 drug. But as The Post reported, it's possible that the agency "could also decide to leave kratom unregulated." That's certainly the hope of reform advocates who argue that kratom should remain off the federal list of banned substances entirely.

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