As opioid crisis worsens, FDA attacks safe alternative used by millions

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Thankfully, the scientific community isn’t taking the FDA’s non-scientific approach to kratom lying down. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Andrew Harnik

According to the Centers for Disease Control, opioids were involved in over 42,000 deaths in 2016. This crisis is tearing apart families across the country and killing far more people than either guns or cars.

As the White House, Congress, and many states scramble to address the spread of opioids, one federal agency is actually trying to block a naturally-occurring plant that is providing a lifeline for millions of addicted Americans — kratom.

On February 6, the Food & Drug Administration claimed that 44 deaths have been associated with the Southeast Asian plant over the last several years. This untrue assertion is just the latest attack on kratom by the FDA, which has also declared kratom to be an opioid despite scientific proof to the contrary.

In an investigation into the FDA’s claims, The Huffington Post discovered that all but one of the 44 deaths cited by the FDA involved a myriad of other factors. Additionally, the FDA declined to provide further information to the Huffington Post on the one death that might have still actually been tied directly to kratom.

Perhaps most revealingly, The Huffington Post pointed to how the FDA admitted its “study” of kratom-related deaths is neither conclusive nor valid proof of causality. Yet the agency continues to move towards making kratom illegal.

Nine scientists across North America signed a letter last week to Opioid Crisis Team Leader Kellyanne Conway and Acting Drug Enforcement Agency Administrator Robert Patterson calling out the FDA for using “bad science.” They requested that both Patterson and Conway ignore the FDA’s dishonest representation of kratom, which they insist is a plant safely being used by millions of Americans.

Those scientists went further than simply rebutting the FDA, however. “We believe strongly that the current body of credible research on the actual effects of kratom demonstrates that it is not dangerously addictive, nor is it similar to ‘narcotics like opioids’ with respect to ‘addiction’ and ‘death,’” they wrote. “Equally important, four surveys indicate that kratom is presently serving as a lifeline away from strong, often dangerous opioids for many of the several million Americans who use kratom.”

In other words, the FDA’s “science” is anything but, and a ban on kratom could make the opioid crisis worse, if that can be imagined. The scientists addressed this last point, highlighting how “publicly available research documents that kratom has a long history of acceptably safe consumer use, and, when used as an alternative pain management therapy, kratom provides a far more favorable safety profile for consumers compared to more dangerously addictive and potentially deadly classical opioid medications.”

In other words: kratom offers some of the same pain-reducing benefits of opioids, but with significantly reduced chances of addiction and related death, and “without the dangerous and potentially deadly respiratory suppression induced by classical opioid medications.”

Thankfully, the scientific community isn’t taking the FDA’s non-scientific approach to kratom lying down. Likewise, the millions of Americans consuming kratom are continuing to fight for their right to access. But this may not be enough. That’s why the American Kratom Association is asking the wider public to sign a petition protecting access to kratom.

Like the scientists’ letter, this petition is directed to the decision-makers at the White House. It asks President Donald Trump to “direct the FDA and the National Institute of Drug Abuse to research how kratom can best be used as both an alternative pain management therapy, and as a potential step-down from opioid addiction…”

This science-based approach to kratom regulation would benefit all who care about opioid addiction by using real research to make public policy. It would benefit the general public by reducing the prevalence of opioid-addicted Americans. And it would benefit policymakers from the White House to local governments who right now are struggling to provide treatment and funding to stop the spread of this crisis.

I encourage all readers to sign the petition and support sound science. Ensure the availability of this naturally-occurring botanical used by millions of Americans to manage their overall health and well-being, before it’s too late.

Dave Herman is the Chairman of the Board for the American Kratom Association. David has served in a variety of senior executive roles for non-profit and for-profit organizations, and he has testified before Congress on health care policy.

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