Congress Wants More Power To Ban Drugs—Kratom Could Be Next

Kratom leaves // Image via Wikimedia Commons user Manuelj

The Controlled Substances Act of 1971 might be getting a facelift—and the outcome is not looking good for kratom and psychedelic advocates. Meet the SITSA Act, or Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues Act of 2017, introduced to Congress last month by Senators Dianne Feinstein and Chuck Grassley.

According to the American Kratom Association, this law could get passed much sooner than later. In an email dated July 11th, new Chairman of the Board Dave Herman wrote: “Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, wants the SITSA Act pushed through the House before the upcoming August recess to show action in the fight against the opioid epidemic—so there will be little time for consideration of any amendments in this accelerated scheduling.”

 

The bill is the latest in a congressional effort to crack down on synthetic drug analogues by expanding the reach of the U.S. Justice Department. SITSA would allow an attorney general to place any chemical “substantially similar” to an already-banned drug into a new category, “Schedule A,” for up to five years. Thirteen fentanyl analogues will be immediately advanced to Schedule A should the bill become law.

Substances lumped into Schedule A will technically be Schedule III, allowing for scientific research on the chemicals to still progress. The law also won’t criminalize personal possession—just manufacturing or distribution.

The current criteria for banning a drug requires the Attorney General and the Secretary of Health and Human Services to satisfy at least three of eight factors, proving the drug is a likely risk to public health.

But under SITSA, that scientific and medicinal rigor would no longer be required. To be banned, all a chemical needs is “an actual or predicted physiological effect on the human body equal to or greater than an existing controlled substance,” according to a fact sheet by the bill’s writers.

In other words, it doesn’t matter if a drug is truly dangerous or even psychoactive at all—so long as lawmakers can predict it will do something.

“This is a giant step backwards, and really it’s doing the bidding of Jeff Sessions as he tries to escalate the war on drugs,” Michael Collins, a deputy director at the Drug Policy Alliance, told The Washington Post. He said SITSA will give “the attorney general a ton of power in terms of scheduling drugs and pursuing penalties.”

 

Kratom leaves // Image via Wikimedia Commons user ThorPorre

 

Naturally, this bill has worried kratom advocates, who fear SITSA opens a backdoor to ban their favorite herb. Kratom is a tropical tree from Southeast Asia related to coffee. In its leaves are alkaloids that offer a multitude of medicinal benefits, especially pain relief.

Side effects are reportedly mild, and while kratom is slightly addictive, withdrawals are weak, according to the bulk of research on the herb. It’s long been recognized as an effective treatment for opioid addiction since at least 1895, and is considered by some to be a natural alternative to methadone.

Still, kratom was almost banned by the Drug Enforcement Administration on August 30, 2016. The DEA backed down after overwhelming protests from the public and members of congress. Yet, that win could be short-lived.

“SITSA would allow [the] DEA to sweep in substances that pose no actual abuse potential and precedent indicates DEA would take full advantage of the broad language in the legislation,” the American Kratom Association said in a public statement from their lawyers. “SITSA as drafted would significantly expand the universe of drugs or substances that DEA could immediately control with little  notice to legitimate stakeholders or input from experts and with few curbs on the authority of DEA.”

Lauren Krisai, the director of Criminal Justice Reform at the Reason Foundation, echoed those sentiments. “Historically speaking, looking at all these different laws that have allowed us to schedule more and more substances hasn’t really reduced drug use or overdoses or anything like that, so I don’t know why this would be any different,” she told The Daily Beast.

It’s not technically an opioid, but because kratom is a μ-opioid receptor agonist, it could be tossed into Schedule A thanks to SITSA. (To understand the difference between an opioid and an opioid receptor agonist, remember that some cheeses contain opioid peptides with agonistic activity. Does that really mean Brie could be made illegal under SITSA? It’s hard to speculate, but given the broad scope of the bill, it’s not out of the question.)

 

SITSA still needs to pass the House and the Senate before it lands on President Trump’s desk, but in the meantime, here’s what you can do to stop it.

Sign the American Kratom Association’s petition here.

Contact your representatives and senators. Their offices must log every phone call, email, letter and tweet, so your voice will be heard. You don’t need to mention kratom, because it’s not specifically mentioned in the bill, but be sure to emphasize that SITSA is too broad, lacking in checks and balances, and leaves no room for scientific review.

Finally, talk to grandma about kratom. This last suggestion may seem quaint, but one of the most effective changes you can make in terms of drug policy is being open with your family members about effective drug policy.

Troy Farah on EmailTroy Farah on Twitter
Troy Farah
Troy Farah is a documentary field producer and independent journalist from the Southwest. His reporting has appeared in The Outline, VICE, Fusion, LA Weekly, AJ+, NBC and others. His website is troyfarah.com
  • Benjamin Spaethe

    I personally think SITSA is providing nothing helpful, except to make it very easy to ban any substance they choose, whether synthetic or natural. The current CSA requires the DEA to retrieve the studying of a substance that is under the gun before they ban it permanently, but they don’t have to do that if they implement a temporary ban, which lasts 2 years. During this time they conduct the proper research needed to make a temporary ban permanent. That being said, SITSA takes the power of scheduling drugs and places it into the hands of 1 person, the Attorney General. Not a panel of research scientists or medical specialists, but a lawyer. This is not a just way for our government to handle their war on drugs. The CSA has led the DEA to be successful in banning 80+ substances in the past. They were 100% effective in banning everything they wanted, until Kratom came along. Now, for all of you who think SITSA will not effect Kratom, read the bill carefully. It states word-for-word with regard to the qualifications for substance placement into Schedule A, “In general, the drug or substance has an actual or predicted stimulant, depressant, or hallucinogenic effect on the central nervous system that is substantially similar to or greater than the stimulant, depressant, or hallucinogenic effect on the central nervous system of a controlled substance in schedule I, II, III, IV, or V.” And keep in mind that nowhere does any law clearly define what “substantially similar” literally means. If they determine that Kratom has properties similar to opioids, I believe they will have plenty to ban Kratom through SITSA. And if SITSA is passed in its current form, there is nothing we can do to stop the Atty Gen from banning Kratom, since SITSA does not allow for scientific, medical, public, or judicial review of any decisions to place substances under Schedule A. They need to amend SITSA to state, “Any and all currently-legal natural botanical substances and their natural alkaloids shall be exempt from scheduling under the SITSA Act.” If they fail to do so, Kratom will get banned, believe me. There is no question in my mind otherwise. The DEA is embarrassed that they tried to make Kratom a Schedule 1 substance and failed. And now their superior is looking for a loophole…SITSA.

  • Maggi Martin

    Thank you for your comment. You know I am 50 and am in really bad shape with a few chronic health issues that cause severe debilitating pain. I had 2 spine surgeries 3 weeks apart last February and was taking morphine 5mgx3 every 3 hours around the clock. I decided it was time to quit the morphine because i was developing a physical addiction I could tell I had a physical addiction because I had been cutting down and was having really bad withdrawals. I received a sample package of kratom to try, I was a little afraid to try but I was so sick I opened the package of red for pain white for energy and green for mood/ relaxation. I took one even tsp. of the red in a cup with 4 oz of green tea and a large squeeze of organic honey because I honestly thought that everything I had read up on kratom made it sound like it was really gross. I nuked 26 seconds stirred vigorously and guzzled it down. Within 30 I had stopped pouring sweat my nausea from the morphine withdrawals had dissipated and my pain had greatly subsided. In less than 1 week I was completely off of the morphine and done with the withdrawals. Here’s where I have one of my problems with the above article about how they say that kratom gives you a similar affect like Vicodin and that it causes euphoria and addiction? I don’t know who their human test subjects are or if they had any but I would be more than happy to volunteer for the powers that be to either record how truly horrible the pain I’m in before I take that 1 tsp. of kratom powder and watch me NOT get high. I have been taking 1 or 2 tsp a day but not always daily since I began taking it in March of this year. If it were addiction even mildly which I think is preposterous “mildly addicting” There’s no such thing! I have had a few addictions in my day. I was predisposed to being an addict, long line of addicts in my family tree. So take it from me if it were addicting I’d be doing more kratom now than when I started! I am a California transplant living in Spokane and I am not able to get pain relief and have been profiled, severely mistreated and misdiagnosed after I fell on black ice 6 weeks after I moved here by several providers and actually back listed. It took them 6 months to finally get an MRI. Now because of the lack of medical care I received and the run around I was given by the surgeon I saw and finally reported what he was doing and was told not to go back to him. I had to be referred to a surgeon in Seattle who said I shouldn’t have been able to even walk from those injuries. I do not have anything other than kratom for my degenerative disc disease neural tubal birth defect stenosis arthritis fibromyalgia, recurrent dry pleurisy lets not forget that because the surgeon here wasted 2 years of my life not giving me a surgery he said he would I am now permanently disabled with bilateral foot drop a s 9 neuropathy in both feet and now in my arms and hands from nerve damage to my spine. This phony opioid epidemic isn’t helping things either. Yes I said phony. Thie epidemic information that is being supplied and going out doesn’t just apply to the narcotic prescribed pain pills like morphine, Norco, Vicodin Percocet etc it also applies to street drugs that are opioid based like heroin and the new dangerous fentynal that is very fatal also included in these illegal drugs there are those that get pain pills that they turn around and sell for profit which is illegal. Most of the statistics regarding the deaths attributed to this crisis are those who’ve either gotten them and mixed them with another drug perhaps alcohol which caused their death or those that bought them from someone and took to many trying to get high not because they were in pain it was because they wanted to be high and died. Then those people who bought heroin or fentynal off the street and overdid it- trying to get even higher not because they were in so much pain but because they were greedy addicts. The statistics doesn’t tell you that there are those of us in chronic pain that are committing suicide because of this opioid crisis who have legitimate verifiable pain and are being cutoff because the CDC, DEA, and FDA are ommitting the facts. The chronic pain patients death’s you can bet those are listed on their statistics too. Take away pain pills from chronic pain patients who have been treated like a criminal just to get pain relief? Monthly urinalysis screenings the random phone call to bring your meds to count is humiliating and disgraceful to the profession of medicine and anyone who thinks that that’s fair needs to have their heads examined. I know that in America there are 124 million chronic pain patients and the reason this has continued for as long as it has is because we are not able to gather to protest or March because we are being forced to live in such agony we are unable to stand up and fight for our rights. I personally think that if the plan is to ban all opioids and opiate like substances then it needs to be across the board. I’m no big drinker but I know the effect of alcohol but it does produce similar feelings like a shot of dilauded. Where does it stop? Blaming a pain pill for a real addiction like heroin is bs. That’s like blaming a fork for making you fat. It’s a real sad day in America when I stand a better chance of having the right to die with dignity by medically assisted suicide for my nonstop untreated chronic pain than I do getting a prescription for hydrocodone or the like. I can guarantee you that if kratom is next it’s genocide. Some of us are hanging on by a bare thread.

  • Angela Lawler

    #fakenews

  • Kim Burkert McGrantham

    When is the decision set to be made?