AUSTIN (KXAN) — A federal decision to make the herbal supplement kratom as illegal as heroin is now on hold.
Lawmakers have asked the Drug Enforcement Agency to delay the final decision, saying the move to ban it was hasty and there was no opportunity for public comment. Dozens have also signed on to a letter to Shaun Donovan, director of the Office of Management and Budget, to use his “statutory authority” to delay the DEA from labeling kratom as a Schedule I substance.
In late August, the DEA announced its intent to place the active materials found in the kratom plant into Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, citing concerns that the supplement was a public health hazard. They believe there’s a high potential abuse and say the number of calls to poison centers increased tenfold over five years.
But the decision caused a major backlash, not only from lawmakers but from more than 140,000 people who signed a White House petition to keep kratom legal.
Kratom is a tropical tree found in Southeast Asia, and its leaves can be crushed into a powder for users to take. Many swear by its medicinal benefits, using it for chronic pain relief, depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder.
For users like 35-year-old Austin mom Ciara Gammon, it helped her get off the painkillers which she had been prescribed for years.
Gammon broke her neck at age 14 and later learned she had a herniated disc. Complications in her neck continued and doctors prescribed her heavy medication like Norco and Soma.
“I felt like a pain in everybody else’s life because all I could basically do was take drugs and lay in bed, and they were drugs the pharmacy and doctor said I had to have,” said Gammon.
While she was skeptical, Gammon eventually tried kratom, and says it changed her life.
“My daughter, if she wasn’t in school right now, would be more than willing to tell you that it gave her mother back, for the first time in her life,” said Gammon. “Kratom just gives you the ability to stabilize your mood, stabilize pain, be the normal human being that you really are inside before you were taken over by this thing you can’t fight.”
Her best friend Amy Shelbourne also relies on kratom. Her pain also started at a young age, suffering from Endometriosis and severe complications down the road.
“I had a complete hysterectomy and several surgeries to clean up all the scar tissue, take a few organs that were damaged. So that was when I really started heavily using all the medication they gave me, fentanyl, dilaudid, oxycontin, oxycodone,” said Shelbourne. “Four months ago I completely stopped taking over-the-counter and prescription medicine, I don’t take anything but kratom now, not even ibuprofen.”
She too says it’s changed her life, and it’s why she’s now publicly fighting to keep it legal.
“Helps keep me up and motivated and happy and not so depressed with the pain, because the pain is still there — it just makes life doable,” said Shelbourne. “This has saved my life, this had made me be able to be a wife again.”
The two women know their fight isn’t over, and hope the DEA listens to their stories before making their final decision.
KXAN reached out to the DEA and did not receive a response.