Tennessee’s Fight Both For and Against Kratom

The state of Tennessee is famous for many things; the Cumberland Gap, Music City, Beale Street, Graceland, Dollywood, camping, hiking, Andrew Jackson, the Volunteers and many other bits of history. The historic, and beautiful, state has seen a boom recently for these reasons, and people searching for friendlier pastures away from the personal frigidness of the New Yorks, Chicagos, and Ohios of the country. Tennessee is beautiful paradise with something for everyone, except those who seem to be searching for a reprieve from their opiate addiction.

Right now, Tennessee ranks as the state with the second highest amount of people addicted to opiate-based prescription drugs, only being beaten by West Virginia. After careful assessment of what to do about the issue, (that not only plagues their state but also the entire nation according to a recent decree by the President calling the opiate epidemic a national emergency), multiple counties in the state have begun to formulate a class action lawsuit against multiple Big Pharma companies including Purdue Pharma, Mallinckrodt and Endo Pharmaceuticals. They have decided to place the blame upon the people who make the drugs, instead of looking for solutions to help those who have found themselves victims of addiction.

This is a similar play to the states who sued the tobacco companies after it was found out they knew about the addictive nature of cigarettes but did nothing to warn people of the dangers. The tobacco companies had to pay $206 billion over the first 25 years of the settlement and will continue to pay indefinitely afterwards, but people across the country are still smoking regularly. This payout did not aid in ending tobacco usage but instead sent money to the states themselves.

In Greene County, one of the counties involved in the lawsuit against the pharmaceutical companies, there is one man, David B Hawk, who has taken to the General Assembly to reschedule many of the drugs, in an alleged attempt to keep the addicts safe. His proposed bill, HB1832, “revises various provisions of law regarding the scheduling of controlled substances and their analogs and derivatives, including updated identifications of drugs categorized in Schedules I–V; [and] authorizes sentence reduction credits for prisoners who successfully complete intensive substance use disorder treatment program.”

On the surface most would agree with the bill. After all, who doesn’t want to be sure the people get the help they need, and if they are doing what they need to overcome their disorder why wouldn’t we support reduced sentences? There being a whole litany of discussions that could be brought up about that, let’s focus on part of the bill that is left out of the summary, the part where he recommends banning an all-natural leaf that has been known to help people going through recovery in the state.

In section 11(1) of HB1832 Mr. Hawk writes, “Unless specifically excepted or unless listed in another schedule, it is an offense to knowingly produce, manufacture, distribute, sell, offer for sale, or possess any capsule, pill, or other product composed of or containing any amount of Kratom, in its natural botanical form, or any capsule, pill, or other product composed of or containing any amount of mitragynine or hydroxymitragynine.” This comes only weeks after the Attorney General of Tennessee stated, “Possession of the kratom plant in its natural, botanical form should not subject a person to potential criminal prosecution under Tennessee state law. The kratom plant in its natural botanical form is not a prohibited controlled substance under Tennessee law.”

For the sake of transparency, I am a kratom advocate. I have marched in Washington DC when the DEA called for an emergency scheduling of the plant in 2016 and then overturned their decision for the first time in history. I have spoken in front of city councils, and state legislatures about the positive benefits of the plant. I have written many articles on the subject that have been shared 100s of times. I have hosted live web broadcasts talking about why we need to fight to keep it legal in the state of Florida, as well as throughout the nation. I have seen the good this plant can do for people, continue to fight for its legality nationwide, and am frankly quite confused why a state with such a high opiate-based prescription addiction epidemic would be fighting to ban an all-natural plant that could help people with this issue. This especially bothers me when we are talking about a state I used to reside in, a state I still love, and a state I hope to reside in again one day.

The fight against kratom is akin to the “reefer madness” days of the 20th Century. A lot of bogus information has been spread about the plant in a smear campaign by larger companies afraid of their bottom line being hurt, including varying statistics on deaths caused by kratom, although I have yet to see a toxicology report where kratom was the sole substance in a person’s system. When the DEA called for their emergency scheduling they cited the rise in poison control calls having to do with kratom over the course of a five-year span, which totaled 660. For a point of reference, 12,000 people have called poison control for eating Tide Pods over the last year, but there hasn’t been a call to ban those (nor should there be).

I don’t blame Mr. Hawk for his lack of knowledge on the subject. He hears the worst stories from the media, and he runs with it in an effort to protect people like most people would. His information, though, is bad, and I for one would implore him to look further into the subject, and submit an amendment to HB1832 striking section 11(1) from the record. I would be happy to sit with him privately and talk to him about kratom and explain the benefits of the all natural herb.

Right now the state has banned synthetic kratom, which is ironic since FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb is a member of the group who holds the patent on that substance. He is a member of the General Assembly in a state with multiple counties are suing Big Pharma companies for the addiction issues they are experiencing, and actively working to ban the herb that these same companies would like to see banned because it hurts their bottom line. The entire situation makes very little sense to an outside observer.

The state of Tennessee, again, has a lot to offer a wide variety of people. It is one of the most beautiful states I have ever had the joy of living in. I would ask the General Assembly to not take away the hope of those who need it most in the state. The addicts need help, not lawsuits. Kratom can be that help.

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