Is the SITSA Act a Kratom-killer?

Is the newly enacted SISTA Act a Kratom-killer? The law provides a loophole the government can potentially use to classify Kratom as a “Schedule A” substance, thereby making it illegal to use or sell.

On June 15, 2018, 239 members of the US House of Representatives voted to pass H.R.2851, the Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues (SITSA) Act, legislation designed to combat this country’s deadly opioid epidemic. SITSA creates a new “Schedule A” substance classification that gives the Attorney General of the United States unprecedented power to ban opioid “analogues” used to control pain or increase energy.

While the stated purpose of SITSA is to empower the Department of Justice to effectively stem the spread of ultra-powerful fentanyl analogues, the broader governmental powers it gives the DOJ worries Kratom supporters. SITSA makes it possible for the Justice Department to add Kratom to the “Schedule A”  list of illegal analogues—sidestepping the usual, more rigorous requirements for adding a substance to the schedules of controlled substances.

With SITSA, all the DOJ has to do is cite the FDA’s recent assessment of the herb as a dangerous substance—even though there’s no evidence of Kratom directly causing a single death from overdose.

Additionally, consumer rights organizations like the Human Rights Watch argue that the bill punishes users instead of the “drug dealers in lab coats” who work for the giant pharmaceutical corporations responsible for opioid addiction crisis. An estimated 75 percent of Americans addicted to opioids started with prescription painkillers.

An HRW spokesman said that while “… the legislation attempts to address the very real problem of synthetic opioid overdoses in the United States … we believe that its methods are misguided. Instead of punishing people who use drugs and low-level dealers, legislation should focus on expanding treatment opportunities and targeting the international drug trade.”

Many Americans are wondering why the same pharmaceutical companies who caused the opioid epidemic are so heavily invested in the government’s efforts to criminalize Kratom.

Writing in Forbes magazine, David Kroll is critical of the poor science employed by FDA Head Scott Gottlieb in a attempt to scare consumers away from Kratom. And by the way, Gottlieb, a Trump appointee, serves on the board of 3 pharmaceutical companies and leads a venture capital firm funding over 150 companies in the drug sector. Gottlieb is reported to have received more than $400,000 from Big Pharma between 2013 and 2015. Can consumers be blamed for wondering if the Head of the FDA is displaying a conflict of interest?

While more research needs to be done, there’s mounting evidence that criminalizing Kratom could possibly increase the number of deaths caused by opioids. Recent surveys suggest that hundreds of thousands of people use Kratom and as many of 70% do so to quit or cut back on opioids.

In September 2016, shortly after the DEA announced it’s intention to classify Kratom as a Schedule 1 substance, 51 members of Congress formally petitioned the DEA to delay placement of Kratom onto Schedule I, so as to allow more time for public discourse and research into useful applications of the herb. A letter accompanying the petition openly challenged claims by the government that Kratom has no known medical use. Cited in the letter was the work of Christopher R. McCurdy, PhD, of the University of Mississippi who investigated the use of Kratom as an analgesic alternative to strong opioids and an aid in recovery from opioid dependence.

Funded by the NIH, McCurdy and his team observed that compounds found in Kratom don’t approach the potency of prescription opioids, morphine or fentanyl, Investigating traditional use of the herb in Malaysia, the researchers observed that locals commonly rely on Kratom to wean themselves from opium, using the herb as an alternate form “… of methadone or Suboxone (buprenorphine/naloxone) maintenance therapy.”

The purpose of the SISTA Act is to improve public health, but the legislation can cause further harm by criminalizing the possession of analogues instead of focusing on underlying issues and treatment resources. If Kratom becomes an illegal substance, we may never have an opportunity to explore use of the herb as a safe alternative to pain pills—and an effective tool in stemming the opiate crisis.

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