What in the world is Kratom and why is it in the news?
The answers to these questions and how we respond to them will either increase public safety in Mississippi or undermine it.
First, what is Kratom?
It is the dried and ground leaves of a tree found in parts of Southeast Asia. It has been used for hundreds of years for a variety of health reasons, and has become popular in the US recently, often sold as a dietary supplement. In low doses people who use it report mild pain-relieving qualities and more energy. In large doses it can act as a sedative. Some people also find that Kratom halts the body’s opioid withdrawal symptoms, helping them discontinue opioid use.
So, why is Kratom in the news? Last April, a number of media outlets covered a report by the Centers for Disease Control that had analyzed over 27,000 overdose deaths in 2016-17 and indicated 91 of them could be linked to Kratom. What the CDC report mentioned, but was rarely included in the media reports, is that virtually all of those 91 people had other drugs in their system.
Kratom is not illegal under federal or state law, but several Mississippi counties have recently made it a crime to use or possess Kratom, with more considering it under pressure from law enforcement and some concerned citizens.
While I sympathize with their concern for public safety, turning a person who uses Kratom into a criminal and putting that person in jail is the wrong approach. Just like any other substance, legal or illegal, Kratom can be misused, and we need to treat that misuse as a public health issue and not as a criminal matter.
Banning a popular substance does not make it disappear. It simply transfers the substance from a legal market, where we have the option to regulate it, to the black market where we have zero regulation. This market transfer increases crime by providing a revenue stream that entices people to break the law to get a share of the profits. This decreases public safety.
The black market sells any concoction they want, with a strong profit incentive to pack the biggest punch in the smallest package to avoid detection while smuggling. This lack of regulation over purity and potency is how we got fentanyl-laced substances on the street.
While we may categorically disagree on the best path forward, I wholeheartedly agree with Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics Director John Dowdy that using unregulated substances is like playing Russian roulette. This reality should make us take a long pause and ask ourselves why on earth we want our loved ones playing Russian roulette with yet another substance, when we’re losing so many people to overdoses already from unregulated drugs they bought on the street.
Christina Dent is Founder of End It For Good, a conservative nonprofit advocating for health-centered approaches to drugs. She lives with her family in Ridgeland.