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The controversial drug kratom could get its first dose of regulation in Oregon if a bill in the Legislature’s short session passes, including making it a crime to sell to underage users.
Kratom is a plant containing psychoactive chemicals that grows naturally in Southeast Asian countries like Thailand and Indonesia. At low doses, it energizes people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At higher doses, it numbs pain.
The federal government in 2016 moved to ban kratom, then backed off in the face of vocal opposition. Some people use kratom to help with addiction to opioids, like pain pills or heroin.
In its current form, House Bill 4013 would make selling kratom products to people under 21 a misdemeanor with penalties of up to 30 days in jail and a maximum fine of $1,250. The bill also could set the stage for much broader regulation, commanding multiple state agencies to work with the kratom industry to make a plan for regulating kratom.
Corner stores, herb shops and gas stations can and do sell products derived from the plant. Kratom usually comes in powder form, either in capsules that users swallow or in a powder that people mix with water or juice and drink.
The federal government in September warned people against using kratom because of a risk of addiction, abuse and dependence. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has also expressed concerns about people using kratom to get off painkillers and street drugs without the research to back up whether that works.
“The FDA stands ready to evaluate evidence that could demonstrate a medicinal purpose for kratom,” FDA head Scott Gottlieb said in February 2018. But, he continued, the agency knew of no evidence that would meet its standard for approval.
The original Oregon bill would have required the state to create a regulatory system, not just figure out how to make one.
The bill, filed by Rep. Bill Post of Keizer, a Republican, is part of the American Kratom Association’s push to get states to regulate the drug. The group’s fear is that without any oversight, unscrupulous producers will sell adulterated products that make people sick.
In a CDC analysis of 27,338 overdose deaths from mid-2016 to December 2017, the agency found that kratom was at least one of the causes of death in 152 cases. All but seven of the people had other substances in their bodies, such as fentanyl, according to the analysis.
Lora Romney, a lobbyist for the association, told Oregon lawmakers about her personal journey taking opioids for her chronic pain then switching entirely to kratom, which she said eliminates the pain without making her feel high.
“We’re going to keep this plant safe for patients who need it, but we want to make sure it’s clean, pure kratom,” she said. “Because if it’s clean and there’s no additives added to it, it’s safe.”
The bill is scheduled for a vote in the House on Tuesday, Feb. 18.
— Fedor Zarkhin