A Chevron gas station off Highway 45 in Columbus has a street-facing flashing sign advertising the sale of Kratom. A citizen-formed task force asked Lowndes County supervisors to pass an ordinance making the sale of Kratom a misdemeanor. Photo by: Amanda Lien/Dispatch Staff
February 5, 2019 10:57:02 AM
Angela Jourdan has seen firsthand what the addictive, but legal, substance Kratom can do to a family.
During Monday's meeting of the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors, Jourdan recounted her year-long ordeal, using a packet of 13 chronologically-arranged photographs to illustrate her family's descent from a "perfect life" into fear and violence.
The title page of the document bore simply: 2018.
It began, she told the supervisors, in February, when her husband was introduced to the substance at work as a way to keep him awake during long overnight shifts. By April, it was a $600-to-$800 per week habit. By the end of the year, Jourdan had a lifetime restraining order against the man she still calls her "husband and best friend."
"When he started doing this, I started doing research," Jourdan told supervisors. "I found that 65 to 70 percent of stores in Lowndes County sell (Kratom). And that's scary. That's wrong."
Jourdan and other members of a community-based drug and crime task force appeared before supervisors to ask them to pass an ordinance making it a misdemeanor offense to sell Kratom in any form within the county limits. If passed, Lowndes County would be one of six Mississippi counties to criminalize the substance.
Kratom is a tropical tree native to Southeast Asia, with leaves containing two addictive compounds -- mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine -- that interact with opioid receptors in the brain, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
There is no minimum age to purchase Kratom. It is sold in convenience stores as a .25-ounce bottled liquid, similar to an energy shot, or as an e-cigarette cartridge. There are also capsuled and powdered versions of the substance available online from major retailers such as Amazon.com.
Jourdan and Lt. Eddie Hawkins with the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, who also spoke at the meeting, fear that the accessibility of the substance will raise addiction rates.
"We've already heard about student athletes in high schools using (Kratom) to improve athletic performance," said Hawkins. "And it's hard to tell them that it's a dangerous substance because why would you stop taking it when it makes you feel good and perform well?"
Hawkins fears a lack of available information about Kratom will discourage legislation against the substance. Aside from statistics collected by the Food and Drug Administration in 2017, little to no data exists on the distribution, purchase and usage of Kratom at the national, state or county level.
"We do know there are something like 44 deaths the FDA has linked partially to Kratom," Hawkins said. "But that's it. There isn't even enough data and research about the effects, or about overdose treatments."
Supervisors voted to hold a public hearing on the ordinance next month during a regularly scheduled supervisor's meeting. Board president Harry Sanders told The Dispatch he expects the ordinance will pass.
"I think we're all ready to vote on it," he said. "And after the public has a chance to comment, we will."
While supervisors and Columbus city councilmen only have the authority to make the sale of Kratom a misdemeanor, the Mississippi Legislature can add Kratom to its list of Schedule 1 narcotics, which would make its sale a felony.
A House bill (HB 1168 filed by Rep. Jeff Smith of Lowndes County) has been filed to make Kratom a Schedule 1 drug in this year's session, something Sen. Chuck Younger (R- Columbus) tried unsuccessfully to get passed in the Senate last year.
Younger had never heard of Kratom until last year, when Monica Flowers, director of Last House on the Block for Women, approached him about the substance.
"She said a lot of the women there were really having trouble with this stuff," said Younger. "So I proposed the bill."
Younger's bill died in the Senate's Drug Policy committee.
"The chairman of the committee, David Jordon, was really behind it, but some senators got calls from people saying it was great for pain relief," Younger said. "That's bull. It's just another way to get high, in my opinion."
This session, Younger said he hoped to attach his bill to opioid legislation presented by Sen. Sally Doty (R, Brookhaven). Doty told The Dispatch on Monday she is reluctant to agree.
"I'm on the drug policy committee and I remember Chuck's bill coming up last year," Doty said. "My feeling is there wasn't enough information for me to be comfortable supporting it. I do know a lot of constituents said that (Kratom) was really providing some pain relief for them. Again, I think we need more information."
Another avenue is to add Kratom to the list of Schedule 1 drugs that are added during committee meetings.
"We haven't met as a committee yet, but every year there are new drugs that come up," Doty said. "It's possible that Kratom could be added to the list of scheduled drugs."
Flowers told The Dispatch Kratom has been around for "four or five years" and several of her residents have grown dependent on the drug.
"A lot of these women are opioid or heroin addicts," she said. "For them, it gives them the same high and it's legal and easy to get here."
Flowers said Kratom had become such a problem that they began using more sophisticated drug tests to detect Kratom.
"Most tests don't detect it, so we started sending our tests to a lab that does more extensive testing," she said. "Since then, we've had several residents who've failed tests for Kratom. It's a serious problem."
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