Robert Roskind, the owner of The Oasis, a cafe in Carrboro, has been selling kratom legally for seven months. He said kratom, which is a plant often served as a tea and used to treat pain and depression, is a safer alternative to alcohol and prescription drugs.
“It was my daughter having buried five friends to alcohol at 29 years old that made me want to investigate and bring kratom in here,” he said.
He said since he started selling kratom, the herbal tea has become his most popular product, with up to 40 people ordering kratom at his cafe each day.
“All day long people come in here getting relief from pain, getting off opiates and opiate addiction, kicking alcohol and enjoying the botanical sense of well-being,” he said.
According to the DEA, Schedule I drugs have no medicinal value and a high potential for abuse. Patterson said the scheduling intent posted in August was largely influenced by calls made to poison centers concerning kratom exposure and the 15 deaths between 2014 and 2016 involving kratom directly or indirectly.
“It’s been a drug of concern for the DEA for some time,” he said. “We had an issue with people taking kratom with other drugs and overdosing, so there was some concern there.”
Bryan Roth, a professor in the UNC Department of Pharmacology, said in an email kratom has an opioid as an active ingredient, and there is debate among scientists about the drug’s possible side effects.
Roskind said kratom is threatening to pharmaceutical companies that produce prescription opiate drugs.
“Any type of pain, it gets rid of it,” he said. “And that’s why they’re trying to make it illegal, because these pharmaceutical companies are trying to get their hands on it.”
Patterson said the DEA will use input from the FDA and feedback from the public when making a final decision on scheduling the drug in December.
“The FDA is going to be doing an eight-factor analysis on the active ingredients in Kratom,” he said.