CINCINNATI -- Federal officials plan to outlaw a substance sold in over-the-counter drinks, calling it "an imminent hazard to public safety."
The Drug Enforcement Administration intends to temporarily place Mitragynine and 7-Hydroxymitragynine, better known as kratom, onto the list of Schedule I controlled substances, according to a proposed rule scheduled to be published Thursday.
Kratom is a plant native to Southeast Asia containing psychoactive chemicals that act as an opiate substitute. It has been reported to have both narcotic and stimulant-like effects, and withdrawal symptoms can include hostility, aggression, excessive tearing, aching of muscles and bones and jerky limb movements, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
A recent I-Team investigation found energy drinks containing kratom being sold at some Northern Kentucky gas stations. Kratom is currently unregulated as a dietary supplement, though the FDA has warned against using it since 2014 due to "serious concerns … regarding the toxicity of kratom in multiple organ systems."
In the proposed rule, DEA officials wrote that kratom has "a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision."
Kratom is often misused to self-treat chronic pain and opiod withdrawal symptoms and used it as a replacement for heroin, according to the DEA.
The I-Team's recent investigation detailed how Zach Ziehm's mother believes kratom drinks contributed to his heroin relapse and overdose death.
In 2016, there have been "a significant number of overdoses and traffic fatalities directly, or indirectly, involving kratom," DEA officials wrote in the proposed rule.
Use of kratom seems to be growing. Between 2010 and '15, poison centers in the U.S. received 660 calls related to kratom, There were 26 calls in 2010, compared to 263 in 2015.
More kratom is being imported into the U.S. to match that increased use. In January, U.S. Marshals seized nearly 90,000 bottles of dietary supplements and this month seized more than 100 cases of products labeled as containing kratom.
The amount of imported kratom seized or awaiting a decision by officials since 2014 is enough to produce more than 12 million doses.
If officials do approve the plan to list kratom as a Schedule I drug, it will remain listed as such for two years. Officials will have to wait 30 days before they can issue a decision.