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DEA Rules to Make Kratom a Schedule 1 Drug
5 mins read

OCTOBER 14, 2016 (UPDATE)  – The Drug Enforcement Agency announced its intention to move Kratom to a schedule I drug on August 31st. The drug, which is derived from a tree found in Southeast Asia and has a long history of medicinal use, was going to be placed in the same category as drugs like heroin and LSD to “avoid an imminent hazard to the public safety”.

After that notice of intention was published, the DEA’s decision was met with criticism from advocates of Kratom as a safe alternative to opioids. Scientists who expressed concern that the measure would impede their research on Kratom and was even the subject of a lawsuit filed by four Kratom vendors.

As a result of this response, the DEA has decided to rescind their notice of intention. Instead, they have invoked a comment period, which will last until December 1, 2016. During this period, the public will have an opportunity to share their experiences using Kratom as a medical treatment. In addition, the DEA will receive a scientific and medical evaluation and scheduling recommendation from the Food and Drug Administration.

Once this commenting period is over, the DEA will revisit the issue of Kratom and its scheduling. At this point, there is no immediate effect to DOT drug testing or to Drug-Free Workplace policies.



SEPTEMBER 26, 2017 – The Drug Enforcement Agency has announced that as of September 30th, the drug Kratom will be a Schedule I drug. A Schedule I is considered a narcotic with no currently accepted medical use (along with drugs like Heroin, LSD and MDMA). This is due in part to its increased use recreationally as well as its link to numerous deaths in the U.S.

The herbal supplement is derived from a tree called Mitragyna speciosa, which is native to Southeast Asia. In these regions it has been traditionally used as a medicine to relieve pain and increase energy and appetite. Its use for Opioid withdrawal can be traced back to 1940’s Thailand. Currently, Kratom is being used as a non-prescribed opiate replacement as well as a recreational drug. Testimonials about its potency as well as its legal status have led to recent increases in its recreational use in the US in the past decade. It is most often brewed into tea but can also be chewed, smoked or ingested in a capsule.

Despite claims of Kratom’s medicinal value, at this point there is little research to support its usefulness as a medicine. Minor side effects of the drug include itchiness and vomiting, but more severe effects included respiratory depression, seizure, and psychosis. The substance has a risk of addiction and has been linked to 15 deaths in the U.S. between 2014 and 2016. U.S. Poison centers have received and increase in the number of calls about Kratom, from 26 in 2010 to 263 in 2015.

The DEA published a notice on August 31 in the Federal Register arguing that Kratom needs to undergo emergency drug scheduling and that “such action is necessary to avoid an imminent hazard to the public safety.” The listing is temporary, and will last between one and three years. In this time, the DEA will be able to further research this substance and make a final determination if this schedule is appropriate.

The DEA’s ruling follows the lead of many states that have been recently banning the substance, specifically Indiana, Wisconsin, Vermont, Tennessee and most recently Alabama and Arkansas.

In the immediate interim, this ruling should have no effect on DOT drug testing programs as the psychoactive compounds in Kratom (mitragynin and 7-hydroxymitragynine) are not tested for in a 5-panel DOT drug screen. However, as a Schedule I drug, DOT employers should be aware that use of Kratom is still a disqualifying offense, even if it does not appear on a drug screen. Kratom is not currently available for testing so other drug testing programs should remain unchanged. However, this may be subject to change and if/when it does, employers may want to consider expanding their testing panels to include it.

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