The DEA Is About to Make Life Even More Dangerous for Heroin Users – By Maia Szalavitz September 26, 2016


As opioid overdoses continue to skyrocket across America, many chronic pain patients and people with addiction are seeking safer ways to cope. Too bad the feds—with a broken system for scheduling drugs of all kinds—are standing in the way.

In this photo illustration, capsules of the herbal supplement Kratom are seen on May 10, 2016 in Miami, Florida. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

In this photo illustration, capsules of the herbal supplement Kratom are seen on May 10, 2016 in Miami, Florida. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

As opioid overdoses continue to skyrocket across America, many chronic pain patients and people with addiction are seeking safer ways to cope. Too bad the feds—with a broken system for scheduling drugs of all kinds—are standing in the way.

In August, the Drug Enforcement Administration refused to move marijuana out of its most restricted category of drugs, Schedule I. And at the tail-end of that month, the agency announced plans to add Kratom—a South Asian herbal remedy that is frequently used to treat both chronic pain and addiction—to the same list. The ban could start as early as September 30, and is expected to last at least two years.

Substances included in Schedule I are said to have both a high potential for abuse and “no currently accepted medical use,” and sales and possession are illegal. While some medical research can still be conducted, the bureaucratic process involved is both expensive and time-consuming, creating a catch-22 that makes “no currently accepted medical use” a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“I don’t know of any instance of them reversing themselves, “Jag Davies, director of communications strategy for the Drug Policy Alliance, told me of the government and scheduling decisions. Forty-five members of Congress have written the DEA and federal officials asking them to delay the move.

Meanwhile, data favoring both marijuana and Kratom as pain-relieving alternatives to drugs like Oxycontin and heroin continues to build. First, weed: The most recent study, published this month in the American Journal of Public Health, found a 50 percent reduction in the number of drivers aged 21 through 40 involved in fatal car accidents who tested positive for opioids in medical marijuana states. A 2014 study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, found a 25 percent reduction in the opioid overdose death rate in states that legalized medical marijuana between 1999 and 2010, a reduction that grew over the years after the state legalized. A Rand Corporation study bolstered the apparent link between greater marijuana access and reduced opioid-related deaths, while a study of Medicare claims found that spending on pain medication fell by $165.2 million in medical marijuana states.

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