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What new drug is the DEA moving to place on Schedule I?

Last month, our blog discussed how the Drug Enforcement Administration declined to grant a request to remove marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, the most restrictive classification.

While you might believe that the list of Schedule I drugs would be relatively static, meaning the DEA seldom has occasion to expand its size, this is far from the case. Indeed, the law enforcement recently published an announcement in the Federal Register indicating that it will be placing the substance known as kratom on Schedule I by the end of the month.

What is kratom?

For those unfamiliar with kratom, it is a natural herb that grows in Southeast Asia, which can be purchased in cafes and headshops, and over the internet in all manner of forms from liquids and leaves to capsules and powder. It is known for providing users with opioid-like sensations, and touted by sellers as a natural alternative for those struggling with chronic pain or addiction.

Why is the DEA placing kratom on Schedule I?   

To clarify, the DEA is placing mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, the active materials in the kratom plant, on Schedule I.

As to its reasons for this action, the DEA argues that kratom has no accepted medical uses, and a high potential for dependency and abuse. To this latter point, the agency cites the "significant adverse health risk to users," including both uncertainty and inconsistency relating to things like quantity, identity and purity.  

Is this action justified?

This depends largely who you ask. The DEA cites repeated warnings from the FDA about the potential health impacts and toxicity of kratom products, and the 660 calls to poison control centers about kratom exposure from 2010 to 2015, while critics of this action cite promising research showing how kratom could be a useful and safe alternative to prescription opioids.

Does state law have anything to say about kratom?   

Curiously, the North Carolina General Assembly recently considered a bill that would have added it to the state's list of controlled substances, as well as a bill that would have prohibited its use by and sale to children, but both failed to pass.

From a criminal law perspective, what this means is that those caught manufacturing or trafficking kratom can now face federal drug charges, meaning lengthy prison sentences and steep fines.

Consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible if you are under investigation or have been charged with any sort of drug crime at either the state or federal level.

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