Texas Considers Laws to Regulate Kratom | Dallas Observer

Texas Considers Laws to Regulate Kratom, Drive Away 'Charlatans'

Texas lawmakers are considering regulations on kratom to protect consumers from unsafe products.
Kratom is sold in a variety of forms in shops across Texas.
Kratom is sold in a variety of forms in shops across Texas. Danny Fulgencio
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Texas lawmakers are looking to regulate kratom this legislative session. Bills filed in both the House and Senate, if enacted, would impose age restrictions for kratom purchases, and require proper labeling,  instructions and recommended doses for products.

Kratom is a South Asian plant that can produce opioid- and stimulant-like effects. Users say the product can provide energy, soothe anxiety and depression, and help with drug addiction.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, a Laredo Democrat; Rep. Angelia Orr, a Freestone County Republican; and Rep. J.M. Lozano, a Kingsville Republican, filed identical bills in the House and Senate to get all of this done. On top of these regulations, Senate Bill 497 and House Bill 861 would also set fines for selling adulterated or unlabeled kratom, and for selling the product to people younger than 18. The first violation would result in a $250 fine. The second penalty would be $500, and subsequent fines would be $1,000.

Kratom retailers can avoid these fines if they can prove the violations were unintentional and “due to the kratom retailer’s good faith reliance on the representation of another kratom processor,” according to SB 497. The laws are being billed as the Texas Kratom Consumer Health and Safety Protection Act.

In an emailed statement, Zaffirini said she was inspired to file SB 497 by Texans who shared their stories about using kratom for medicinal purposes like pain relief, and about losing loved ones to adulterated products.

“My intent in filing this bill was to make regulated, safe kratom products available to those needing them while discouraging illegal distribution and use,” Zaffirini said.

She said research has indicated that kratom has some medicinal benefits for pain relief without the addictiveness of commonly prescribed opioids. Research has also shown that access to kratom products reduces or stops illicit opioid consumption, which has grown to be a leading cause of death in Texas, Zaffirini said.

Some states, such as Arkansas, Alabama and Indiana, have banned kratom. But Zaffirini said time and again complete bans of substances have resulted in an increased number of overdoses and fatalities related to drug use. “It is difficult to prevent drug users from finding their illegal and/or harmful drugs of choice, but it’s possible to provide alternatives with safeguards to protect those who seek it,” she said. “Given the dangerous threat posed to our communities by illegal fentanyl and the knowledge that Texas has led the country in the number of kratom buyers for the last five years, it is imperative that we ensure the regulated sale of only unadulterated kratom.”

“My intent in filing this bill was to make regulated, safe kratom products available to those needing them while discouraging illegal distribution and use." – Sen. Judith Zaffirini

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Zaffirini said there are also economic benefits to keeping kratom in Texas, which has become home to the largest kratom manufacturing and distribution companies in the country, creating jobs and investment opportunities for people across the state.

SB 497 hasn’t faced any major opposition yet but Zaffirini filed a similar bill during the last legislative session that failed to pass. She said she feels better about the legislation this time around.

“We are cautiously optimistic about our success on our second attempt, especially because the bill was recommended unanimously by the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services,” Zaffirini said.

The American Kratom Association, a group focused on consumer protection in the kratom industry, has supported legislation like SB 497 and HB 861 in multiple states.

Mac Haddow, senior fellow on public policy of the American Kratom Association, said most small to mid-sized kratom vendors don’t want regulations because they claim they can’t pay to keep up with them. Haddow said: “I get calls every week from people claiming that I’m trying to put them out of business and I tell them ‘Yes I am if you’re not willing to produce a product that’s safe for consumers and properly labeled, and that can be certified by an independent lab to be in compliance with the standards.’”

Haddow said contamination can be an issue with any consumable product, and that’s one concern regulation seeks to address. Another is guarding against people who add adulterants to kratom to make their products feel stronger. “Vendors will try to spike it in order to make their product distinguishable from pure kratom, meaning that it will give it a kick,” he said. “So they put in all kinds of crap. The adulterant of choice now is fentanyl: cheap, they can spike it a little bit, gives you that euphoric high, and it feels different from the pure product.”

He said, “It is critically important that we eliminate those people from the marketplace.”

Haddow has heard stories about people who overdosed on fentanyl and died after taking spiked kratom. “That’s what we’re trying to avoid,” Haddow said. There’s not a whole lot preventing that from happening in Texas under the current laws.

Nine states – Utah, Georgia, Nevada, Arizona, Oregon, Colorado, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Virginia – have passed what’s called the Kratom Consumer Protection Act, which is similar to what’s being proposed in Texas. “So, this legislation is not new but it puts important protections in place for Texas consumers,” Haddow said. “Texas is the home to some of the largest kratom distributors in the country and the ones that are responsible welcome [regulation] because they know that they’ve got to manufacture their products to be compliant with FDA standards, good manufacturing standards, and label it properly. They understand how important that is.”

The people who don’t should not be in business, he said. “They’re the charlatans in this market place,” Haddow said. “They’re unfairly competing now against those that are doing it right.”

People use kratom for a variety of reasons, he said. Many kratom consumers say they use the supplement because it improves their quality of life. Some say it just makes them feel better or that it gives them a boost of energy, like a cup of coffee in the morning. People will often use higher doses to help them get off of opioids or other hard drugs. This kind of self-medication is one reason the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t like kratom, Haddow said.

He understands the agency’s concerns about people self-medicating with kratom, but said the alternatives come with their own trade-offs and can be hard to access. “It’s a trade-off for one level of addiction for another,” he said. “Methadone, Suboxone and those kinds of drugs, they’re also difficult. But the FDA wants people to do that rather than take a natural substance.”

Addiction recovery centers that provide these medications may also be too far away or costly for some, Haddow said.

The FDA has tried to get the Drug Enforcement Administration to list kratom as a Schedule 1 substance. In order to schedule a substance as a Schedule 1, it has to meet certain criteria set by the Federal Controlled Substances Act. To get a temporary scheduling, a substance must meet three criteria. For a permanent scheduling, there are eight criteria to be met.

In 2016, the FDA tried to get kratom temporarily listed as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. If the agency had succeeded, the listing would have been good for two years. In theory, the agency would have come back after that to prove the remaining eight criteria and obtain the permanent scheduling. But the DEA said the FDA didn’t provide enough information. The FDA tried again the following year, this time going straight for the permanent listing.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) also requested that kratom be listed as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. Haddow said then-Assistant Secretary for Health at HHS, Dr. Brett Giroir, evaluated the recommendation and withdrew it. He said the recommendation ignored basic and emerging science that contradicted the agency’s claims about the safety of kratom.

In 2021, the FDA tried to get kratom scheduled internationally but failed to meet the standards again. Haddow said the science just doesn’t justify a kratom ban, and that authorities should move to regulate the substance instead.

SB 497 and HB 861 would do just that and will take effect on Sept. 1 if enacted.
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