The sale of kratom, an herb often consumed as tea, would continue to be legal in Palm Beach County under a recommendation by county officials to limit any local government role with it to a public awareness campaign about its effects.
But County Commissioner Steven Abrams said he might suggest a minimal level of regulation on Tuesday when the County Commission considers what should be done about kratom. Abrams might ask the commission to consider banning the sale of kratom to minors or require warning labels — ideas broached by commissioners in August.
“Based on the board’s discussion (in August), I believe there’s a feeling to do something more,’’ Abrams said. “The board did discuss some basic regulation to prohibit the sale to minors and post warnings, so I am not sure why staff departed from that.’’
Kratom, which comes from a tropical tree native to Southeast Asia, has been growing in popularity in the United States, where it is most often consumed in gel capsules or in kava bars as a tea.
Consuming kratom can cause stimulant effects at low doses and sedative effects at high doses, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. But all parts of the plant and its extracts are legal to cultivate, sell and distribute in Florida without a doctor’s prescription of a license.
There also is no federal or Florida ban on the sale or use of kratom, but it is listed as a “drug of concern” by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency because it can produce opium-like effects.
County commissioners are considering kratom regulations at the request of a Boynton Beach woman whose son committed suicide in July. Linda Mautner claims an addiction to kratom led her 20-year-old son, Ian, to jump to his death off a highway over pass.
The Medical Examiner’s Office said kratom and anti-depressants were present in Ian Mautner’s blood. But the report “did not provide any conclusions or evidence linking the traces of kratom in Mr. Mautner’s blood stream and the suicide,’’ according to a county memo.
The FDLE says there have been no official reports of kratom being listed the primary cause of death, but some hospitals have seen an increase in overdose cases related to kratom.
In a memo on kratom, Palm Beach County officials wrote, “Most sources agree that kratom has the potential to be dangerous and cause adverse health effects, particularly when taken in high does, although there is very little data available on the subject.”
But the memo went on to cite six reasons for recommending a “non-regulatory response” to kratom:
• The herb has a long history of beneficial use for coughs, diarrhea, muscle aches and pains.
• There is a lack of empirical or scientific data to support a law regulating kratom.
• There are no reported deaths officially linked to kratom.
• State and federal agencies are reviewing the sale and use of kratom and “have yet to conclude it poses a significant public threat.’’
• A local law would have limited impact because kratom is widely available through the internet.
• The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office is not in favor of regulating kratom because, among other reasons, it is not classified as a controlled substance.
“According to our PBSO chemist, kratom has different mood-altering or psychoactive properties that (have) the potential but not a history of abuse,’’ Teri Barbera, the sheriff’s media relations director, said in an email to The Palm Peach Post.
The sheriff’s office would work with the Palm Beach County Substance Abuse Awareness Coalition on the educational campaign being recommended by county officials.
The campaign, which would cost about $25,000 a year, would warn children and adults “about the harms and risks associated” with kratom, said Jeff Kadel, the coalition’s executive director.
The consumption of kratom “seems to be a more prevalent and concerning issue,’’ Kadel said. “I’d love to see some type of packaging that warns people against the various things but as far as the banning of it, more research needs to be done.’’
Linda Mautner, who is convinced kratom played a role in her son’s suicide, said she was disappointed county officials are not recommending any form of regulation.
She said she plans to speak to commissions at Tuesday’s meeting and urge them to ban the sale of kratom.
“How many more deaths have to occur? One? Five? Ten?’’ Mautner asked.
“I would like for (the county commission) to consider that what happened to my son could just as easily happen to one of their sons or daughters or nieces and nephews,’’ she said. “This could happen to anyone’s kid.’’
Mike Dombrowksi, a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputy, wrote a letter last month to Palm Beach County and Broward County commissioners urging them not to ban kratom because he said it has helped people with drug addictions.
“It is very important to me and I will more than likely destroy my career in law enforcement in even speaking out for this but the principal is to important,” Dombrowski wrote in his letter. “I have seen people with very long criminal histories due to their drug use get their lives together with Kratom.”
Dombrowski, who attended the Palm Beach County Commission meeting in August when kratom was discussed, has since declined to answer questions from The Palm Beach Post. Barbera did not respond to repeated questions by The Post about Sheriff Ric Bradshaw’s opinion of one of his deputies advocating the use of kratom.
James Morrissette, owner of M.T. Lotz Distribtors, which supplies kava bars and retailers in Palm Beach County with kratom, said most kratom advocates would probably support any effort to educate the public about kratom or even ban the sale to minors.
“Not only would we support it, we would demand it,” Morrissette said. “Children under the age of 18 shouldn’t be consuming this.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration earlier this year issued an import alert about dietary ingredients that contain kratom. County officials said the FDA issued the alert because it is “a new dietary ingredient for which there is inadequate information to provide reasonable assurance’’ that it “does not present a significant or unreasonable risk of illness or injury.’
Sarasota County is the only county in Florida to regulate kratom. But that law that might be vulnerable to challenges, Palm Beach County officials say, because kratom is a natural plant that is included in a Sarasota County law regulating “designer’’ and “synthetic drugs.’’
Palm Beach County also has a law regulating designer and synthetic drugs but the county attorney has advised against including kratom in it because kratom is “a naturally-occuring botanical or plant.’’
Broward County officials last month rejected a law that would have banned the sale or display of kratom until research concluded it was not dangerous.