Kratom has become the go-to remedy for many Americans struggling with chronic pain and depression, and now the country is set to see more people seeking help with the painkiller as the number of deaths from opioid overdoses has nearly doubled since 2016.
As the number one painkiller in the U.S., Kratom is commonly used as an opioid replacement and as an adjunct to prescription opioids, according to the American Kratom Association.
According to the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been more than 3,600 deaths from prescription opioids since 2016, a number that is up nearly 70 percent since the opioid crisis began.
The number of opioid deaths has increased from just 1,874 in 2014 to 3,744 in 2017, according the American Medical Association.
And with the rising number of opioids and the overdose death rate, the DEA and the DEAACP are preparing to roll back restrictions on the use of Kratom to help curb the opioid epidemic.
The DEA announced Tuesday it will begin to allow people over 21 to get access to Kratom, and states including Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Maryland and New Jersey are also considering allowing it.
“I think the DEA will make it easier for people to take Kratom,” said Chris Johnson, CEO of the American Society of Addiction Medicine.
“We’ve got to have a national conversation about the opioid overdose crisis and we have to make it clear that we have a problem and we’re going to address it.”
But Johnson cautioned that the DEA is working to make sure the Kratom ban is not too lenient, as some states have taken the stance of allowing people to use Kratom without the DEA’s approval.
“If we’re really going to get rid of the opioid issue, we’re not going to be able to do it without the approval of the DEA,” Johnson said.
“If they don’t approve it, they won’t allow it, and so it’s going to end up in the courts.”
But Dr. David Buehner, a professor of medicine at the University of Washington and co-director of the Seattle Pain Center, said that the FDA could also restrict Kratom.
“The FDA has been saying this for years that they’re not gonna allow it to be used for medicinal purposes, but the FDA is moving forward with their proposal to allow Kratom for medicinal use,” Buehler said.
“They’re going back to the drawing board, they’re going backward.
They’ve got no real roadmap to get this right.”
In states like Texas and Alabama, Kratom use has increased significantly since the ban, according Buehnert.
He also said that despite a large uptick in opioid deaths in the last year, the rise in Kratom deaths has not led to the increased use of the drug in the United States.
“There’s no correlation between the increase in opioid use and the rise of KMR use,” he said.
Kratom has also been seen as a pain reliever for pain and chronic pain patients, and Buehner noted that some of the people who use KMR may not have access to other medications.
“In terms of how this might impact the number or severity of opioid overdoses, we don’t really know,” he explained.
“What we do know is that people are going to continue to be using Kratom because it’s an alternative.”
The DEA has also stated that it is considering making Kratom available over the counter in certain states, like California, but there is no timeline for when this would be possible.