ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – The St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners is looking into the possibility of banning the drug kratom.
It’s a plant that grows in Southeast Asia and is commonly taken as an herbal supplement in the United States. People take kratom for different reasons, ranging anywhere from an extra boost of energy to pain management. But right now, there are no Food and Drug Administration-approved uses for it.
In fact, the FDA has warned people against using it, saying it has properties similar to those of opioids, and the Drug Enforcement Administration has identified kratom as a "drug of concern." Yet kratom is pretty widely available. A Google search found several locations selling kratom, including online stores and gas stations. It's also a common item on the shelves at smoke shops in St. Johns County. It can be found in a powder, pill or vape form.
"I take it every day because I got hit by a car last year and it helps," said Alton Cope, who takes a small-dosage pill of kratom daily. "It gives me a little bit of energy in the mornings and then just kind of takes the edge off of the pain. It makes it tolerable."
Kratom is legal in the U.S. aside from a few states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Tennessee, Vermont, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia. There are no restrictions on it in Florida, except in Sarasota County, where it's banned. Now, a local group of concerned citizens is working to get St. Johns County on that list.
"It is banned in multiple countries. It is banned in multiple states and, right now, there is no control for it in Florida," said Denver Cook, legislative lead for the St. Johns County Polydrug Task Force.
Cook told News4Jax he’s worried about the long term risks associated with an unregulated drug and said banning it is a proactive measure for what he sees as a future threat.
"In the 1990s, we were told OxyContin was safe and other of these opioid drugs were safe. They turned out not to be," he said. "We are hearing the same thing about kratom."
But people, such as Cope, who use it with no side effects are concerned about a possible ban.
"It’s doing nothing but help people," Cope said. "I feel like the ban is just a fundamental misunderstanding of the subject."
During Tuesday's County Commission meeting, there will be a presentation on kratom, to serve as a form of education, before commissioners move forward with drafting any possible ordinance or restrictions on the drug.