Sen. John Bizon, M.D., R-Battle Creek, introduced a bill that would recognize kratom, an herbal supplement, as a Schedule II drug alongside oxycodone and cocaine.
Those wanting kratom, which isn’t regulated by the FDA, would have to get a doctor’s prescription.
“The currently unregulated drug kratom is both dangerous and addictive,” Bizon said in a news release. “There has been an alarming increase recently in the number of deaths from this relatively unknown drug. We must take measures to help prevent such tragedies and the continued abuse of this drug.”
Bizon didn’t respond to requests for an interview.
The CDC analyzed 27,338 unintentional drug overdoses and found 152 of those people were found to have kratom in their system, which was “a cause of death” for 91 of them.
The report found that 80 percent of those who unintentionally overdosed on kratom had a history of substance abuse and 90 percent may not have received medically supervised treatment for pain.
Josh Bloom, Ph.D. and senior vice president of the American Council on Science and Health, told The Center Square that kratom only exists because useful medicine is regulated out of patients’ hands.
“Kratom is a better alternative than going into the street and buying something that probably contains fentanyl, which is what is killing everybody,” Bloom said.
Kratom is an example of “harm reduction,” a public health concept such as providing clean needles for people who inject heroin or fentanyl to minimize the spread of diseases, Bloom added.
“It’s not perfect, but it’s a step to protect people, like electronic cigarettes versus a cigarette,” Bloom said. “That’s harm reduction. It may not take the problem away entirely but it reduces it.”
Nearly all of those who unintentionally overdosed had ingested multiple drugs, the top three causes of death ranging from fentanyl (65.1 percent), heroin (32.9 percent) and benzodiazepines (22.4 percent).
The number of people whose deaths were associated with kratom made up less than 1 percent of all overdose deaths from June 2016-December 2017, the report said.
Bloom said that you can’t compare kratom by itself with when it's mixed with lethal drugs.
“Cheerios and fentanyl will be toxic and will kill you,” Bloom said. “But Cheerios [alone] presumably won’t.”
C. McClain Haddow, senior fellow on public policy for the American Kratom Association, told The Center Square via email that they support responsible regulation on kratom products.
“We understand there are some concerns about safety issues,” Haddow said. “That’s why we advocate for The Kratom Consumer Protection Act, which requires manufacturers to adhere to strict guidelines in the way their products are manufactured and how consumers are protected through good labeling requirements.”
“Every death 'associated' with kratom is caused by polydrug use or adulterated kratom products,” Haddow wrote.
Bloom said he saw kratom as a psychoactive drug that shouldn’t be sold in health food stores. He added he “wouldn’t suggest that anybody use" the drug, calling kratom “a drug of desperation.”
He continued: “Kratom is a symptom of what’s going on with insane regulation of drugs in this country. No one should need it.”
Some kratom research suggests it’s an effective alternative to opioids, which killed 2,033 in Michigan in 2017, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but the Mayo Clinic cited safety concerns.
Six states and Washington have banned kratom. Michigan legislators killed a 2014 bill that would have banned kratom after backlash from scientists and lawmakers.
The bill waits at the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety.