RALEIGH — A bill recently introduced by state Sen. Tom McInnis has some worried about an Asian herb used to treat narcotic addiction being outlawed.
Last week, McInnis filed Senate Bill 830, which would add mitragynine — an alkaloid in the plant kratom — to the controlled substances list, alongside heroin and morphine.
Kratom leaves have been traditionally chewed by people in Thailand, especially on the southern peninsula, as well as in other countries in Southeast Asia, according to a 2011 report from the Transnational Institute, which recommended it be decriminalized. In southern Thailand, traditional kratom use is not perceived as “drug use” and does not lead to stigmatization or discrimination of users.
The bill would also appropriate $25,000 from the General Fund to the N.C. Department of Public Safety to be allocated to the State Bureau of Investigation to assist with operating costs.
McInnis told the Daily Journal on Wednesday that he introduced the bill to “get a conversation started.”
“It’s not anywhere close to being on the floor,” he said.
Citing reports from the N.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, McInnis said kratom has been found during the autopsies of 23 people — plus or minus other illegal or prescription drugs in 14 of those— in the past five years. Six of those have been this year.
The senator said it appears to be an upward trend, comparing it to the rise of crack cocaine and crystal meth.
“I believe it has the potential to be the next epidemic in our state,” he said.
Joshua Fulton, a Southport business owner who sells kratom sees the bill as government overreach.
“It’s a freedom of choice issue,” he said in a Monday statement. “Kratom has been used medicinally for centuries and we have at least one person a week email us letting us know that kratom has permanently changed their lives. Yet apparently, some in the legislature want more North Carolinians to be hooked on prescription pills and pain killers, which cause more deaths in a year than kratom ever has.”
The release acknowledges that kratom can become addictive, like caffeine.
“If people believe that the legislature should be doing their best to end prescription drug abuse, instead of encouraging it by outlawing herbs like kratom that help people ween themselves from hardcore legal and illegal drugs,” Fulton continued, “they need to act now and contact their legislators.”
McInnis said while kratom is “supposedly a natural plant,” it has not be regulated, approved or tested by any agency in the state and he is concerned about it being available over the counter — packaged with “a sexy name” with no age restrictions.
However, he says he has an open mind and has heard evidence why it shouldn’t be banned and was shown samples on Tuesday. Since the bill has been filed, McInnis said he’s heard from people concerned as far away as Tasmania.
McInnis said he’s reached out to legislators in other states — including those in Georgia, who declined to take up the issue, and Alabama who banned it a few weeks ago — to find out their reasoning.
He said legislators will probably make a determination on the next step in a health committee meeting next week.
“I don’t know where we’ll end up,” he said. “We’ll try to take the information we glean from the report…to make a good, intelligent decision that protects the public.”
Reach William R. Toler at 910-817-2675 and follow him on Twitter @William_r_Toler.