GLASGOW – A city council committee is looking at steps to reduce the availability of a substance known as kratom in local stores.
The Glasgow Common Council Public Safety Committee did not make a decision on its recommendation for the full council at its meeting Monday, pending the gathering of additional specific pieces of information, but is likely to have a special meeting to finalize its plan.
Before discussion of what the city government can do, the committee heard a presentation from Katie Shepard, a community health educator for T.J. Samson Community Hospital and program coordinator for Allies for Substance Abuse Prevention in Barren, Hart and Metcalfe counties, about the availability, forms, effects, etc. of the substance as 14 ASAP youth prevention leaders lined the conference room at the Glasgow Police Department as part of their monthly meeting.
Kratom is available in Barren County, typically at convenience stores, Shepard and Glasgow Police Department Chief Guy Howie said. It's marketed as an herbal supplement, available in capsule form, for example, or it can be brewed with teas, and it is included in snack-bar products, sold as liquid energy “shots,” some of which Shepard passed around as examples, and it can be wrapped and smoked or infused into e-cigarette vapor products.
Howie said Kentucky tried to pass a law barring its sale several years ago, but the legislature pulled out the kratom part, and the federal Drug Enforcement Agency tried to have it listed as a drug it could police before that, but Congress pulled out that part.
“Therefore, it is still a somewhat legal substance,” he said.
One city in Kentucky has a local ordinance banning the sale of it, and that is under court review, Howie said, and the state of Tennessee has a law banning the sale of it.
Councilman Wendell Honeycutt said that when the committee discussed it in December, the members decided it wanted to get more information about it before making a recommendation.
“If we did do a resolution,” Howie said, “it would bring kratom to light, and for those individuals that didn't even know it existed, now they would know.”
Shepard said kratom is a stimulant. The products are derived from the leaves of a plant, Mitragyna speciosa, in the same family as coffee plants, and it's native to southeast Asia, e.g. Thailand and Malaysia, she said.
“This is comparable to an opioid. It's in the same narcotic family. You can chew it up and ingest it,” she said, before holding up a packet with capsules and adding, “You can buy these at our grocery stores. We are one of six states [where] it is still legal to buy it. … They advertise these as feel-good relief. … This is not a synthetic drug. Again, this is a leaf. It has a lot of different compounds; I'm not going to go into that, but we know there are 20 biological chemicals that bind and make this an opioid receptor in your brain.”
Those receptors are were addictions begin, and your brain begins a constant cycle of needing to feed that addiction, Shepard said.
Treatment options are slim in terms of helping individuals in withdrawal, she said.
“What we do know about this drug is they are combining this with other things,” Shepard said, and it doesn't always show up on a “drug panel” lab test. It may take five to 10 minutes for a high to begin, but it can last five to seven hours or longer, depending on the dosage.
Consumption of 1 to 5 mg, affects energy and alertness and increases appetite, as well as making one more social and boosting the libido, but it also makes doing mundane tasks more difficult and lengthy.
With 5 to 15 mg, it can reduce pain, induce drowsiness and even extreme sedation and loss of consciousness.
Side effects can include tiny pupils, facial flushing, tremors or loss of motor coordination, including while driving, constipation, sweating, dizziness, nausea and vomiting, itching and, with high doses, seizures. Long-term effects include darkening of facial skin, anorexia or weight loss, psychosis, dry mouth and frequent urination.
Roughly half of the people who use kratom for roughly six months typically develop a dependency, and she also spoke about some of the withdrawal symptoms, which range from sweating, nausea and a runny nose to muscle tremors, aggression and hallucinations.
Emergency room personnel sometimes have difficulty identifying what the patient has used, she said. As of Feb. 23, 44 deaths were known to be attributable to kratom in the United States, Shepard said.
In addition to the substances in the leaves themselves, the final products often contain other chemicals and/or cancer-causing substances.
“So any age kid can buy this?” Councilman Marlin Witcher asked.
Shepard said store personnel are supposed to ask for identification and not sell it to people under age 18. It's typically up front on counters, perhaps near cigarette lighters, she said as one example.
Howie said the city could create an ordinance to ban the sale, and he suggested asking the city attorney about the penalties and such.
“So your recommendation,” Councilman Patrick Gaunce asked of Shepard, “would be to get it out for kids' sake?”
She said it would be, and a lot of people are treating kratom like medical marijuana, so she's also concerned it will get lumped in with it and nothing will be done.
“If the state's not going to do anything, do we have a responsibility to our community to do something?” Howie said.
Mayor Harold Armstrong said the city could start with passing a resolution asking stores not to sell it while more information is gathered toward creating an ordinance, which he thought would take considerably longer.
If the population agrees with the resolution, they could begin boycotting stores that continue to sell it.
Honeycutt said he thought that would be a good idea, and the discussion mostly centered on what types of further research would be needed.
Ultimately, the group decided to let Howie spend about a month gathering sample ordinances and other information and bring that back to the committee, at which point it will decide whether to recommend a resolution for now with an eye toward an ordinance or go ahead and move toward the ordinance.