Here’s the problem: Vermont has taken a stronger position on the regulation of kratom than the federal government. Kratom is not scheduled by the Drug Enforcement Administration at the federal level, and while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has tried to get kratom classified that way twice, both efforts were rejected because of insufficient evidence to support such a designation under the Controlled Substances Act.
In other words, Vermont’s rules are narrower than the regulations of the federal government. Why is this a problem? Because kratom is legal for sale in the vast majority of states. Vermont residents ought to be able to procure and safely use kratom.
Research has demonstrated kratom’s value in helping patients who suffer from chronic pain, opioid addiction, and other treatment-resistance afflictions. In the United States, millions of people have benefited from kratom’s acceptably safe consumer use.
Even the U.S. Congress has taken note. The congressional committee that reviewed the 2022 funding for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education declared itself “aware of the potential promising results of kratom for acute and chronic pain patients who seek safer alternatives to sometimes dangerously addictive and potentially deadly prescription opioids and of research investigating the use of kratom’s constituent compounds for opioid use disorder.”
Perhaps more critically, they directed the NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse to continue research on the matter, especially in light of the steep increase in opioid drug overdoses. The institute has already issued taxpayer-funded grants to study kratom as a non-addictive therapy for those suffering from acute and chronic pain and opioid addiction withdrawals.
This isn’t an abstract issue in Vermont. Opioid overdoses and deaths have increased at a frightening rate over the last several years. In 2019, 114 people died from opioid overdoses; in 2020, that number went up almost 38 percent to 157. Between May 2020 and May 2021, 210 people died from opioid overdoses — a 54.4% increase from the 137 people who died from May 2019 to May 2020.
Our state’s leaders have been working to address the harm of this public health crisis, including raising awareness about the problem, providing funding and resources, and equipping first responders with the overdose-reversal drug Narcan.
But more needs to be done — and one powerful tool in our toolbox is currently inaccessible to Vermont residents. Kratom is a harm-reduction treatment that should be safely available to Vermont consumers.
Vermont’s elected officials and health officials have the ability to help the state’s residents by decriminalizing kratom. The move would allow those suffering from addiction and chronic pain the ability to get safe, research-backed relief — and it would put the state on the right side of this issue. It’s rare that such a small rule change can have such a powerful effect, but in this case, Vermont would do well to give kratom the legal classification it deserves.