Russ Baer, spokesperson for the DEA, said the initiative to place kratom in Schedule I comes from 15 reported kratom-related deaths and 660 kratom-related calls to poison control centers.
“Once we begin to look at the harm associated with a substance, we are obligated to move forward in an effort to protect the public health,” he said.
Baer said it is unclear when the scheduling will take place.
Regulating kratom has not just been a federal issue. Over the summer, a North Carolina bill was introduced that would make possession and consumption of kratom illegal for people under the age of 18.
The legislation passed floor votes in the Senate and the House, but has not yet been ratified by the governor.
Gardner said kratom was unlikely to be interesting to younger individuals.
“To be honest with you, the tea does not taste delicious,” she said.
Gardner said when she found out about the bill, she visited the N.C. General Assembly and spoke with state senators about kratom. She also offered samples, which some of them tried.
A group of 51 U.S. representatives sent a letter to DEA Administrator Charles Rosenburg, raising concerns about the effect this course of action will have on an ongoing study of kratom as a treatment for opioid withdrawals.
“The DEA’s decision to place kratom as a Schedule I substance will put a halt on federally funded research and innovation surrounding the treatment of individuals suffering from opioid and other addictions — a significant public health threat,” the letter said.
Baer said the intentions of the DEA are not to obstruct ongoing research, but mitigate threats to public health.
“The DEA’s position is that kratom should be held to the same standard as any other medicine that has to go through the rigorous FDA drug approval process to determine what constitutes safe and effective medicines for human consumption,” he said.