MONROE, La. (KNOE) - The American Kratom Association is fighting to keep the herbal pain relief substance called kratom legal.
In a news release on Thursday, the group says they've sent an 11-page letter and a petition signed by more than 40,000 Americans to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency asking it to make no changes to the legality of kratom in the U.S.
Experts say kratom is a botanical in the coffee family native to Southeast Asia. Supporters say the plant, often consumed in the form of green powder or tea, is a safe pain relief alternative to dangerous and highly addictive opioids.
Currently, kratom can be purchased without restriction online or, in some cases, over the counter. Many stores in the Monroe/West Monroe area carry the powder. The American Kratom Association says 5 million Americans support the use of kratom.
The letter and petition come after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's effort to put kratom use under government control. If the FDA has its way, kratom would be classified a Schedule 1 substance, the same as heroin, LSD, and cocaine.
Opponents of the substance say kratom is dangerous and has led to multiple deaths. Just this week, a coroner linked kratom to two deaths in Philadelphia. The FDA also says that kratom isn't regulated and they haven't been able to assess the dangers of using it. Some kratom products have even been recalled over salmonella concerns.
In their Thursday news release, the American Kratom Association also said:
"Advocates for kratom note that it has been used safely for centuries in the countries where it is indigenous. Natives often chew fresh leaves while those in western countries crush the leaves and use kratom as a tea for pain relief."
"The AKA's petition notes the FDA's recent claim that kratom use is a gateway to the use of opioids or the contributor for addiction to opioids, 'has no credible science to support that claim. In fact, the science and survey data on kratom use by those who use kratom as a safe alternative pain management option directly contradicts the FDA's claims.'"
Meanwhile, excessive consumption of alcohol, a legal product, leads to approximately 88,000 deaths a year in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control. The CDC also says that "opioids were involved in 42,249 deaths in 2016, and opioid overdose deaths were five times higher in 2016 than 1999."