An Ohio lawmaker on Tuesday submitted a bill to legalize kratom, a controversial supplement held up by proponents and users as an opioid withdrawal treatment.
The Ohio Board of Pharmacy is considering listing kratom as a Schedule I Controlled Substance in Ohio, putting it in the same category as drugs like heroin, effectively banning it.
If approved, Rep. Gary Scherer’s proposed Kratom Consumer Protection Act would keep the supplement legal under state law.
A Circleville Republican, Scherer said in a phone interview with The Dispatch that he is aware of the arguments for and against kratom, but believes Ohio legislators should have the chance to debate the issue.
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“At this stage I don’t even know if I would vote for the bill, but do think it’s worthy of more open conversation,” he said.
The medical community is largely skeptical about kratom, which is made from the leaves of a tree common in Asia. Most say that claims about its efficacy are largely unproven and point to a potential for addiction and abuse.
Scherer’s bill would task the Ohio Department of Agriculture to come up with a regulatory framework for buying and selling kratom. The bill’s chance of passage is unclear, but if it ultimately becomes law, Ohio would follow in the footsteps of Utah, Georgia and Nevada, which have already cemented kratom’s legal status in their state statutes.
Other states and jurisdictions, including Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Vermont, Rhode Island, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia, have already banned kratom, said Ali Simon, public and policy affairs liaison for the Ohio Board of Pharmacy.
The legislature’s Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review was set to decide Monday if the pharmacy board’s proposed ban on kratom is sound. But the board put the rule-making process on hold after more than 100 people testified at a public hearing Friday at the Riffe Center, saying kratom helped them manage opioid withdrawal and get them off opiods.
“Since we got such a voluminous amount of in-person testimony, we wanted the opportunity to review it,” said Cameron McNamee, communications director for the Board of Pharmacy.
McNamee said the board also factored Scherer’s bill into its decision to suspend work on the kratom ban.
“We just got (an advanced) copy of the draft language and we’re still reviewing it internally,” he said.
The Cleveland Clinic, the American Academy of Pediatrics and Columbus Public Health wrote letters to the pharmacy board supporting a kratom ban, citing the potential dangers of the supplement and a lack of clinical trials to prove that it works.
A study conducted by Nationwide Children’s Hospital has linked nine deaths to kratom since 2016, and kratom-related hospital visits have skyrocketed in the past eight years. Supporters of kratom attribute that rise to “adulterated” kratom that has been mixed with other potentially toxic drugs.