As Kratom ban looms, New Hampshire users push back

  • Denis Goddard of Hopkinton holds up a spoonful of kratom that he takes for pain relief. Kratom is expected to become a Schedule I drug today. But New Hampshire users say it’s a natural remedy that helps them deal with pain. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Kratom in its powder form. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Denis Goddard of Hopkinton is hoping that kratom is not made a Schedule I drug like heroin and LSD. He takes the drug for pain relief. BELOW: Kratom in its powder form. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Monday, October 03, 2016

(Update: A DEA spokesman has told U.S. News and World Report that the planned kratom scheduling has been pushed back a few days, as they prepare a final order. Meanwhile, U.S. senators and representatives including Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch have called for the agency to rethink the ban.)

A few times a month, Hopkinton resident Denis Goddard mixes a green powder into his tea or takes it in a capsule.
The substance is kratom – an herbal supplement that comes from Asia and is used to treat chronic pain or in some cases, used to withdraw from opiates. Goddard suffers from pain brought on by Crohn’s Disease. In addition to therapeutic cannabis, he occasionally takes kratom, which he says provides him hours of pain relief.

But Goddard’s easy access to kratom will soon change. The DEA is expected to declare it a Schedule I drug today, which would put the supplement in the same class as marijuana, heroin and LSD.

The DEA and FDA say users can develop dependence to kratom and warns about side affects including respiratory depression, vomiting, nervousness and weight loss. But the move has elicited an outcry from kratom users in New Hampshire and across the nation who say the drug is an alternative to opioids.

High above Interstate 93 northbound, a flag draped over a bridge declares Concord a “kratom community.”

“It’s an amazing plant,” said Stormy Dunton, a New Hampshire resident who uses kratom. “It tastes like dirt and it does not get you high. It is not a recreational drug.”

Dunton said she used to be on many prescriptions and narcotics for pain from a bad sciatic nerve and anxiety and depression.

She also has a family member who struggles with opiate addiction and takes kratom as a maintenance drug, similar to Suboxone.

Dunton said she’s afraid what will happen when kratom becomes a scheduled substance.

“All these people have nowhere to go for their pain management,” she said. “There’s no treatment. I’m scared for all these people.”

Goddard has used kratom to relieve his Crohn’s related pain for the past year and a half.

“I was looking for legal ways to alleviate pain that did not involve opiates,” he said.

Goddard said he is a patient who gets medical marijuana from one of the state’s alternative treatment centers, but he’s found kratom is more effective for pain and he can take it and still drive and do things around the house.

“It’s much more purely physical, purely a matter of pain relief,” he said.

He and other kratom users say the supplement is easy to access. Some smoke shops in New Hampshire carry it, and it can also be easily purchased on the Internet.

Another selling point; kratom is cheap, much more so than the cannabis sold in New Hampshire’s alternative treatment centers.

“It’s been very easy to access,” Goddard said. In anticipation of the ban, he recently purchased one pound of Kratom for about $150, which he estimates will last him a long time.

Dunton and Goddard have been vocal in their opposition to the ban, and many others have, too. An online petition to the White House opposing the ban now has over 139,000 signatures.

“I am absolutely 100 percent passionate about it and I advocate it anywhere I can,” Dunton said.

An opposing argument

Kratom has been on Nicole Rodler’s radar for the past few years.

The juvenile court diversion coordinator at the Rochester Police Department says kratom started showing up at parties, dances and raves around the same time as MDMA.

Rodler was getting lots of calls about teenagers and young adults mixing kratom and alcohol and collapsing from dehydration. MDMA causes the same problem; when that drug was making headlines for causing deaths, victims were dying from dehydration rather than drug overdoses.

No one has died from Kratom, but Rodler said the supplement is worrisome.

“It depletes the whole system because you’re pushing yourself at the max,” Rodler said. “It was accessible, and that was the thing that was most concerning, it could be bought over the counter.”

Last year, the New Hampshire legislature took up a bill banning the sale of kratom to minors, which ultimately died on the table in the House. Rodler showed up to testify and was surprised to see dozens of people in Goddard’s case who used kratom for pain.

Especially given the state’s heroin crisis, she says she sympathizes with people looking for pain management options that don’t involve opioids.

“Those who are trying to do a safer, legal alternative to opiate medication, this was a great substitute,” she said. “Maybe schedule I is too harsh.”

The bill debated in New Hampshire last year contained no penalties for underage kratom users or the people who sell to them, and anti-drug advocates in the state said they were looking to the federal government on how to handle the issue.

Rodler said she thinks the herb needs to be scheduled by the DEA and FDA so that there are rules around it.

“If it gets in the hands of a youth, their systems can’t handle it,” she said. “They don’t understand the seriousness of it and its effects. There’s not enough to say they wouldn’t become addicted to it.”

(Editor’s note: The web headline of this article has been updated to reflect that the DEA’s timeline for scheduling kratom has changed. The story has been updated to reflect the status of SB 540, the bill that would have banned the sale of kratom to minors in New Hampshire.)

Ella Nilsen can be reached at 369-3322, enilsen@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @ella_nilsen.)