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Kratom: Healing herb or dangerous drug?

The federal government will soon decide whether to ban a controversial supplement despite public outcry.

Advocates and many who publicly commenteed believe Kratom can be a safe replacement for powerful opioid-based pain medications.

>> Read more trending stories

Earlier this year, the DEA announced its intention to ban kratom, classifying it in the same way as heroin and LSD.

Public backlash prompted the agency to back down and collect public comment before making a decision. More than 8,000 comments about kratom were submitted to a federal database.

Comments vary from describing the supplement as a healing herb to a dangerous drug. Many comments include personal stories about how kratom changed lives.

The comment period ends December 1st.

The DEA isn't likely to make an announcement at the end of the comment period because it's waiting on the Food and Drug Administration to complete its own evaluation.

Kratom as a lifeline

Andrew Turner takes a scoop of kratom every day and mixes the powder into his tea. He orders the supplement from a supplier he says he vetted on the internet.

Turner, a Navy veteran, suffers from Meigs Syndrome, a rare disease that causes ticks and stuttering. He also suffers from migraines, PTSD, depression and anxiety from his military service. At one point, he was taking five to six pharmaceutical medications a day.

"It got to be a pretty miserable existence," Turner said. "I'm completely disabled, trapped on my sofa most days because I can't move because of all the medications I'm taking. I'd sit and drool on myself."

Turner didn't see life getting any better until he found kratom. Now he says, "I'm getting quality of life back."

Turner gets his health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs. He says if the DEA moves forward and bans kratom, he will stop taking it.

"I can't afford to be a criminal," said Turner.

"If it sounds too good to be true then it probably is."

Dr. Daniel Fabricant is with the Natural Products Association. He was with the FDA when the agency first looked at kratom.

He questions whether it's addictive.

"While it behaves like an opiate, we don't really have anything in the food supply that's an opiate," Fabricant said. "Some people think that because it is natural that it can't harm you, but there are a lot of drugs from nature that can do severe harm and are addictive."

Fabricant has seen and heard personal stories about the supplement, but says kratom must be looked at cautiously.

"You have a lot of claims out there that are largely untested. These claims are not substantiated," Fabricant said. "People are talking about their personal anecdotal experiences. That can be problematic because it can prevent people from getting real medical treatment if they need it."

The DEA says side effects from kratom can include seizures, hallucinations. Fifteen deaths reported nationwide from 2014 to 2016 were attributed to kratom use by the DEA. In many of those cases, kratom wasn't the only substance found in the deceased person's system.

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  • Responding to concerns about personal security for lawmakers after last week’s gun attack at a Congressional baseball practice, U.S. House leaders are moving to provide extra money to members for protection back home, as well as new funding to bolster the work of police and security officials on Capitol Hill. Under a plan approved by a House spending subcommittee on Friday, the Congress would provide an extra $7.5 million next year to the Capitol Police for an “increased security posture” around the Capitol, along with $5 million to the House Sergeant at Arms to help with security for lawmakers back in their districts. “We are taking a new fresh look at security,” said Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KS), the Chairman of subcommittee that deals with funding for the Legislative Branch. Our FY18 Legislative Branch funding bill increases efficiency & transparency in Congress, enhances security for Members & our constituents. pic.twitter.com/FI36tF2XeH — Rep. Kevin Yoder (@RepKevinYoder) June 22, 2017 “The tragic events of June 14 weigh heavily on these deliberations,” said Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, which could vote on the extra money as early as this next week. Also being put into motion is a separate plan to funnel an extra $25,000 to each member of the House – about $11 million in all – to help them increase security back in their districts. “The scariest part for us is there used to be this impression by the public that we all had security everywhere we went,” said Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH). “Now, everyone knows that isn’t the case,” Ryan added, as he lent his support to the extra funding for security as well. The money in this budget bill would not take effect until the new fiscal year – which starts October 1 – so, House leaders are ready to okay extra money immediately for members worried about security back in their districts. Roll Call newspaper reported that could be approved in coming days by the House Administration Committee. Yoder said Congressional leaders are also waiting to see if money raised in campaign contributions for House elections could be put to use for security as well. “Pending an FEC (Federal Election Commission) decision, we’re also looking at whether campaign funds could be used to continue to support security upgrades at personal residences,” Yoder added.
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