Clay hears plea for kratom ban

 MBN agent Eddie Hawkins shows supervisors the powdered form of the drug.
Staff Writer

An emotional horror story from a wife and mother, an impassioned plea from a veteran drug agent, and a technical review from a doctor may be enough for Clay County Supervisors to call for a public hearing on whether to join the growing number of communities banning the controversial natural drug kratom.

“Family after family is going through the same thing. I bet you you know someone who is addicted,” Angela Jourdan, a Caledonia nurse, told supervisors Monday as she recounted how her husband, who she is divorcing, went from the “love of her life” and a $160,000 a year job to an abusive, addicted monster spending $800 a week on the drug.

“My kids have been through hell and I don’t want to see anyone else have to go through it. That’s why I am doing this, why we are doing this,” Jourdan said.

Jourdan and other members of the Crime and Addiction Task Force started last year by the Columbus-Lowndes Chamber of Commerce have made banning the drug, which is unregulated and is sold at many convenience stores, a priority. Late last year they successfully lobbied Columbus and Lowndes County to ban the sale or possession of the drug.

Monroe County recently joined the ban, bringing to seven cities and counties who have. The group took their presentation to Calhoun County later Monday and will be in Tishomingo County, West Point, Aberdeen and Amory in the next two weeks.

For the second year in a row, a bill in the Legislature making kratom a schedule I drug illegal in the state died in committee. Until state or federal agencies take action, local initiatives are the only protection, the group told Clay supervisors.

The ordinance the group is pushing makes possession or sale a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail.

“There’s no quality control, no dosage limits, no age limits,” stated Eddie Hawkins who has spent more than 25 years as a drug agent, much of it with the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics.

“It’s a threat, it’s a danger, it’s something we need to do something about,” Hawkins continued, noting the state had 11 confirmed kratom overdose deaths last year.

Kratom comes from a tree grown in Southeast Asia and has been around for hundreds of years. Long used for a variety of herbal treatments in its native lands, it’s now banned there as the countries began to understand its addictive properties, the group said.

In high doses, it can cause seizures, hallucinations and even death. It’s usually sold in pill form or as an energy shot. It contains natural ingredients that spark the release of the body’s natural pleasure chemical, dopamine, which provides the “rush” or “high.”

“Let me tell you, every addict out there knows about it,” Dr. Charles Rhea told the group, noting the Last House on the Block recovery center in Columbus has kicked four recovering addicts out recently because they were secretly using the drug to help their “recovery” from opioids.

But that use is one of the problems. Kratom apparently does have some successes for recovering opioid addicts and while the Food and Drug Administration has been critical of the drug and noted it has few proven uses, it nor other agencies have banned it.

Proponents of the product say the issue isn’t banning it but rather regulation, taking away the concoctions that now line store shelves and replacing it with controlled products that can benefit some users.

The Virginia-based American Kratom Association advocates for users and businesses, trying to educate and to offset “the current environment in the United States that often does not listen to individual voices and together we will make our voice heard,” according to Dave Herman, the groups chairman of the board.

The group notes “chocolate, coffee, exercise and even human breast milk hit these receptor sites in a similar fashion,” referring to the brain’s chemical reaction to kratom.

They note research shows that when used reasonably, “the potential for abuse and dependence is no greater than such widely used and unscheduled substances as nutmeg, hops, St. John’s Wort, chamomile, guarana, and kola nut.”
But the Lowndes-based group wanted about that persuasion.

“If we can take it out of the hands of kids, off the shelves at the convenience store where they can buy it, we can start solving a problem,” Hawkins intoned, noting that the ban in Lowndes County is sending buyers to Clay County to get their supply.
Alabama and Tennessee are among six states that have banned the chemical.

The group is visiting towns in counties that ban the drug to make sure “there are no loopholes” in enforcement.

County Attorney Angela Turner Ford said she was going to reach out to city and county attorneys in other areas for their research. She also said if supervisors decided to pursue a ban, a public hearing might be“prudent” because it impacted businesses.