Senator Helming plans to reintroduce a bill banning the sale of kratom to minors; at least one local doctor sees kratom ODs on the rise
It’s called kratom and if you haven’t heard of it, your teenager probably has.
It’s an herbal substance that is available to anyone for purchase at gas stations and head shops. However, local emergency room doctors say it’s dangerous and people are overdosing.
Dr. Marita Michelin runs the emergency department at Newark-Wayne Community Hospital, so she’s seen her fair share of overdoses — but lately, they haven’t all been opioid-related.
“A young woman who overdosed, she told me what she had taken when she woke up and that it was a substance called kratom,” Michelin recalled.
There have been others since that day, too.
“Over the last year, since that experience, I’m seeing it more and more,” Michelin said.
Kratom is a tropical tree native to southeast Asia. Its leaves contain compounds that can affect a person’s mind and body.
“It is an opioid-like substance that engages some of the same receptors that narcotics do,” Michelin said.
Because it’s a natural product, it is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and there aren’t any restrictions on who can buy it.
“It’s easily accessible. It’s not regulated. From my understanding it’s been obtained from either gas stations or other places of business that have it along with all their other products,” said Michelin.
Rob Brockler owns The Kratom Shop on Monroe Avenue in Rochester.
“We are not doctors, we can’t give medical advice. I speak from experience. I talk about what it’s done for people,” Brockler said.
Brocker said his kratom customers have been able to break opioid addictions, relieve pain and lessen stress — but he agrees only adults should be using it.
“That’s why we’re begging for regulations, because in an unregulated environment you’re bound to have both good guys and bad guys,” he said.
Brockler doesn’t sell to anyone under the age of 18 and says all of his kratom is tested by a third party lab.
However, because there are no industry-wide regulations, testing is not mandatory for all kratom sold, so it can be hard for users to be sure exactly what they’re taking.
“There have been companies that have been found out to have put research chemicals to enhance the strength and potency, which is a stain on the industry,” Brokler said.
Kratom is believed to have some medical benefits. It’s also believed to have a high potential for abuse and addiction. In 2016, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) moved to ban its sale and classify it as a Schedule I drug due to it being an imminent hazard to public safety. Public opposition to the ban included a letter signed by 62 members of Congress and a protest at the White House by the American Kratom Association. The decision was delayed to allow for further research.
In 2017, controversy over kratom escalated when a young police sergeant in the Adirondack Mountain community of Tupper Lake.
New York State Senator Pam Helming, R-Canandaigua, introduced legislation last year that would ban the sale of kratom to anyone under the age of 18. It passed in the Senate but was never picked up in the Assembly.
Helming said she plans to reintroduce the bill this year.
In a statement she says, “Last year, my legislation banning the sale of kratom to minors passed the Senate unanimously. However, it did not move in the Assembly, so the process starts over again. It needs to pass both houses of the legislature and then would go to the governor for his signature.”
Helming said she is working to secure a new Assembly sponsor, as the legislation’s previous sponsor in the Assembly, Joe Morelle, D-Irondequoit, is now serving in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“This is a common sense, bipartisan bill that is designed to protect our young people and communities,” Helming stated. “It is important that we regulate and control kratom’s sale to minors until we know more about its possible benefits and risks. This bipartisan legislation shows that we take the addiction crisis seriously. I want to thank my Senate colleagues on both sides of the aisle for passing this legislation last year, and I am hopeful the Assembly will join us in passing it again this year.”
Brockler said he and some of his customers will be participating in a study with the University of Rochester about kratom that will be starting at the end of the month.