Legislators Discuss Kratom

Testimony before the Interim Joint Committee on Health, Welfare, and Family Services focused on kratom, an herbal substance that the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) says “can produce opioid- and stimulant-like effects.” Neither NIDA nor the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has taken a formal stance on the product. Representative Josh Calloway (R-Irvington) sponsored House Bill 569 this year to address concerns about the substance, but legislators did not vote on the measure. Recently the Kentucky League of Cities (KLC) Board of Directors voted to continue to support legislation that addresses the criminal aspects of drug trafficking and substance abuse that have led to the state’s drug epidemic while focusing on treatment, rehabilitation, training, and workforce reentry.

Calloway stated at Wednesday’s hearing that there is not enough support to ban the sale of kratom in Kentucky. However, he urged legislators to act to protect residents, including children who can legally purchase the product that gas stations often sell. “I want to make it clear, I too run a transitional living home,” he said. “I am not at all sitting here advocating for anything in particular other than we have a product that has no guardrails at all, and they need them.”

House Bill 569 would have created age limits to purchase kratom, banned product adulteration and contamination, limited extraction levels, required proper labeling, and created fines for those violating guidelines. “My point is, let’s do something and then see what the FDA does,” Calloway added.

Mac Haddow, senior fellow of the American Kratom Association, independent researcher Lindsay Blair, and New Day Recovery Center CEO Dr. Alan Shultz also testified. Haddow offered a history of kratom, a product that grows naturally in some Asian countries. He said soldiers returning from Vietnam brought the substance home after the war.

Blair studied the effects of kratom bans in Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin. “Currently, there are no quality control standards or procedures in regard to kratom production and distribution,” she said. “Not only is it being adulterated with illicit substances, but the FDA has issued warnings about high levels of heavy metals in kratom, and that could potentially lead to heavy metal poisoning or increase risk of certain cancers.”

Schultz runs a residential treatment facility in Lexington. He called kratom “an addictive drug.” When Haddow suggested that those fighting opioid addiction could find relief through kratom, Schultz responded, “Harm reduction is not a medication in a gas station. Harm reduction is done by professionals with FDA-approved medications that can help people. You can get kratom in a gas station; that’s not harm reduction.”

Representative Kim Moser (R-Taylor Ridge) urged lawmakers to find solutions to protect people, particularly children, from potential dangers while the FDA and NIDA decide. “It is an important issue,” she said. “I think the FDA and NIDA ought to make a stand on this.”