We’ve discussed the role that the American Kratom Association (AKA, for short) has played before. As a grassroots nonprofit, they have been at the forefront of the fight to keep kratom legal since 2014. In the wake of the House of Representatives passing the dreaded SITSA Act, we sat down with AKA’s Chief Lobbyist, Charles M. Haddow.
Mr. Haddow was able to shed significant light on where we’re at with kratom legality in 2018 and what the kratom community can expect moving forward. Here is a full transcript of our in-depth Q & A. I think you’ll agree that Mr. Haddow was generous with his time and detailed in his assessment of the situation.
Kratom Crazy: Where do we stand vis-a-vis the Pocan amendment? Is there still a fighting chance of preventing the SITSA Act from giving the DOJ power to schedule Kratom?
Chief Lobbyist Charles “Mac” Haddow (Hereinafter referred to, simply, as “Mac”): As a technical matter, the Pocan Amendment to SITSA was rejected by the House Rules Committee because it had not been officially presented and voted on by a committee of jurisdiction.
Initially, the American Kratom Association had received commitments from a number of members on the House Judiciary Committee to offer the corrective amendment that would have excluded natural botanicals and herbs from coverage by SITSA. That effort was short-circuited by the efforts initiated by National Kratom Coalition (NKC) who had posted a statement of support for SITSA on their website.
NKC was, at that time, a newly organized entity that had only been in existence for less than six weeks prior to the Judiciary Committee markup on SITSA. The Judiciary Committee staff were mistakenly led to believe that the American Kratom Association and the National Kratom Coalition were the same group, and Judiciary Chairman Goodlatte [sic] announced during the Hearing that concerns by the kratom community had been resolved on SITSA.
The NKC position was then, and continues to be, incorrect with regard to the potential coverage of SITSA that would allow the Attorney General to place kratom into a newly-created Schedule A that would “temporarily” ban kratom from consumer access for up to five years.
When the Judiciary Committee included its markup, SITSA then went to the House Energy and Commerce Committee where we had secured commitments from members there to offer the Pocan Amendment. In a purely political move, the House Speaker ordered the consolidation of all pending opioid bills into a single legislative package that was then designated for expedited review and approval so that the House could show the public that they were taking serious steps to control the opioid crisis in America.
The Energy and Commerce Committee, acting in accordance with the directive from the Speaker then waived jurisdiction over SITSA and canceled the planned markup Hearing, and the Judiciary Committee version of the bill was reported to the House Rules Committee without the benefit of any vote on the Pocan Amendment.
The SITSA bill is now part of the larger H.R. 6 consolidated opioid bills that was passed by the House and is now before the U.S. Senate for consideration. The political strategy embraced by Speaker [Paul] Ryan in the House to rush the opioid bills through passage will now will be flipped in the Senate where Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will likely wait until November to consider any of the “major” opioid bills so that the roughly 12 vulnerable Democrats in hard-hit states like West Virginia will not be able to claim a “yes” vote on opioid legislation to benefit them in the upcoming mid-term elections.
I wondered how this whole clusterf*ck would affect AKA’s efforts from hereon out.
Mac: This delay actually works in our favor because it provides more time to educate members of the Senate on the truth about kratom, and that time for discussion will benefit us. The FDA, and other detractors of kratom, have worked hard to poison the ground for kratom users and have demonized the plant, and those who use it. When we have the opportunity to explain the science behind kratom, and the reasons why the FDA is wrong on this issue, public policy makers tend to see the importance of exempting natural botanicals and herbs from SITSA.
The American Kratom Association is working closely with the Botanical Education Alliance, the Kratom Trade Association, Drug Policy Alliance, and the American Herbal Products Association in a coalition [to] convince the Senate that the essence of the Pocan amendment to exempt natural botanicals and herbs from SITSA should be the correct public policy. We are very encouraged that members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are willing to help with our amendment and to amend other problematic language in other pieces of well-intended opioid legislation.
Kratom Crazy: Do you think that the recent research conducted by High Point University regarding the scientific facts about Mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine can be helpful in persuading the Senate or even the FDA, for that matter, about Kratom and its purported benefits?
Mac: The recent High Point University study affirms two important issues. First, the two major alkaloids of kratom (mitragynine and 7-Hydroxymitragynine) do not present any public health threat from the use of kratom. Specifically, the study demonstrates that there is no dangerous levels of addiction nor harm from the use of mitragynine, and 7-OH occurs at such low levels in the natural plant that it poses no health risks of any significance.
Second, it is clear that the only danger from the 7-OH is when it is concentrated, purified, and enhanced in order to create a greater potency level because it exists in nearly undetectable levels in the natural plant itself. The FDA currently has adequate regulatory powers to interdict any adulterated kratom product and remove it from the marketplace. The FDA does not have the power, nor was it contemplated by Congress that it would do so, to ban any product because it was adulterated by a third-party bad actor.
Kratom Crazy: Should the Kratom community be scared about the current political climate or is this just business as usual? By that, I mean is this just a repeat of the 2016 move to ban Kratom?
Mac: The kratom community should be on high-alert given the obvious FDA bias against kratom, and the war that they are waging against legitimate uses of the botanical plant by consumers. The FDA has concocted a scientific argument that is contradicted by numerous credible independent researchers, but the FDA is working hard to spread their “propaganda” both in the media and indirect visits to offices on Capitol Hill.
The FDA has been unable to persuade the DEA to accept its recommendation for scheduling of kratom, and all of its efforts are designed to put additional pressure on the DEA to move forward with the scheduling of kratom, just as they did in 2016. Specifically, Commissioner Gottlieb is falsely claiming that kratom is an opioid, an analog of an opioid or has the same effects as classic opioids. All of those claims are demonstrably false and numerous scientists have pointed out the obvious errors in those statements.
Kratom Crazy: What measures are being taken by the AKA to keep Kratom legal?
Mac: The American Kratom Association is working closely with congressional advocates to amend several parts of the opioid legislative package that was passed by the House. There are significant threats to consumer access of kratom because of poorly-worded legislative language in several of the opioid crisis legislative vehicles.
We are also working hard with congressional oversight committees and their members to hold the FDA, the DEA, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) accountable for the science related to kratom in order to protect consumer access.
In addition, the American Kratom Association is working with state legislators in more than a dozen states to educate them on science behind kratom [and] in the importance of keeping kratom available to consumers in their states. We are working hard to educate legislators in states where kratom is currently banned to rescind those bans.
Kratom Crazy: What can Kratom advocates do beyond contacting their Senators?
Mac: Kratom consumers should watch closely the calls to action from the American Kratom Association that will support the specific educational efforts with members of Congress and state legislatures in our efforts to keep kratom legal.
The political landscape is a dynamic one, and it requires constant diligence and effort. Consumers should also be aware that there are efforts initiated by some kratom advocates that, however well-intended, actually undermine the good work that is being done. Grassroots advocacy is most effective when it is targeted to a specific policy objective, and the timing is critical.
Kratom Crazy: Do you think Kratom should be regulated in a similar manner to that of alcohol and tobacco?
Mac: Kratom is a dietary supplements/food that is properly regulated by the FDA with its existing powers to assure that consumers have access to safe kratom products. The American Kratom Association is working hard to develop a set of standards that manufacturers should adhere to, and with specific labeling to provide consumers with adequate information on the contents of kratom products and recommended uses. The FDA should apply its regulatory powers to any kratom product that has been contaminated or adulterated and immediately remove those products from the marketplace.
Kratom Crazy: Do you think that kratom could grow the U.S. economy?
Mac: Kratom has been gaining in popularity among consumers because of its value as a dietary supplement for mild pain relief and minor mood boost that it produces, similar to why do so commonly used in Southeast Asia. In that regard, natural botanicals are preferred by many consumers over chemical formulations of other dietary supplements or drug products.
Kratom is becoming a strong economic contributor because of the acceptance by the 3-5 million consumers who benefit from its use. That impact will grow, particularly if the FDA is forced to an appropriate regulatory role and has to stand down from its War on Kratom.
Kratom Crazy: What should the average person know about Kratom?
Mac: The average kratom consumer should look closely at the sourcing of the products that they purchase. Consumers should look at recommendations from fellow consumers about where to buy kratom products that are safe for use.
In our Internet society, unscrupulous bad actors often adulterate and contaminate products in order to enhance their effect, and those bad actors threaten the legitimate right of consumers to have access to kratom.
The consumer should be on alert for these unsafe products and use social media to alert fellow kratom users of the bad products. That said, the average person should know that kratom is safe for use. The legislative priority for the American Kratom Association is to keep kratom legal and accessible to consumers, and to support an appropriate regulatory scheme that protects consumers against the bad actors who would adulterate kratom products that makes them unsafe.
Kratom Crazy: What is the current situation with regard to importation and how do you think it is affecting the Kratom industry in the States?
Mac: The FDA initially imposed an Import Alert on kratom back in 2012—largely because of the nine deaths that were reported in Sweden over a 12-month period by individuals who had purchased an online kratom product called “Krypton.”
When researchers examined the autopsy reports and toxicological data, it was confirmed that the deaths were actually attributable to a toxic dose of O-desmethyltramadol that was added to the kratom and that was the cause of the deaths. The FDA has ignored that evidence and determined to use those reported deaths as a justification for banning kratom. That Import Alert should be removed, and the FDA should focus its regulatory efforts on interdicting contaminated and adulterated kratom products.
Kratom Crazy: Finally, what would you like the future to hold for Kratom?
Mac: Kratom, like many botanicals that are used by consumers to manage their personal health and well-being, are in the crosshairs of both the drug and dietary supplement industry who fear both the economic impact of kratom in the marketplace, and the potential dangers of an unregulated kratom community where adulterated kratom products could lead to deaths.
Kratom should be subject to appropriate dietary supplement/food regulations so the consumers can be assured that kratom products they purchase are safe for use. The FDA should focus its regulatory enforcement powers on interdicting the bad actors who are adulterating and contaminating the natural botanical to create some enhanced effect for users. Those products are illegal and their manufacturer should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and their products should be removed from the marketplace.
Additional study is needed to determine the value that kratom may have for those individuals who are struggling with opioid addiction, or for individuals who would prefer to have a safer pain management alternative.
The FDA attempt to schedule kratom as a Schedule I substance will virtually shut down that research. In addition, it will actually increase the number of deaths resulting from the opioid crisis because kratom users who do personally find kratom to be effective as either an alternative pain management therapy, or as a way of reducing opioid use, will either have to go to the very dangerous black market of kratom products where adulteration and contamination abound, or to force consumers to turn to more dangerous opioid medications where the levels of dangerous addiction and death are rampant.
There you have it! The future of kratom can either be a potentially bright one where consumers maintain access to the botanical herbs of their choice or, if the FDA has its druthers, it could be a bleak day for all Americans.
It is nice to know that the AKA and their coalition of advocates are working tirelessly to prevent that bleak day from becoming our reality. I would like to thank Chief Lobbyist Charles “Mac” Haddow for taking the time to talk with us about this important issue and to extrapolate on the effects being made to prevent adjudication against the Mitragyna speciosa plant and safe kratom products derived from the same.
Visit the AKA website at: https://www.americankratomassociation.org
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