A drug defined as “Kratom” is now legal in Washington state, a move that could open the door for people with chronic pain to legally buy the opioid painkiller fentanyl.
In a move similar to one that was recently adopted by New York, the drug is defined as a drug that is “prescribed, intended to be used, or has a high potential for abuse and has not been specifically listed in schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.”
The drug’s name comes from a South American plant, the kratom plant, that is used for a long list of ailments, including migraines, pain, and insomnia.
In a letter sent to lawmakers, the state Health Department said the change will allow people with severe pain to purchase kratom.
“Kratom is a naturally occurring alkaloid with analgesic properties and opioid-like effects,” the letter reads.
“Its potential uses include pain management, opioid analgesics, and opioid receptor agonists.”
The letter also said the substance “is safe and has no known medical use in humans.”
The state’s move to define kratom as a “drug” also allows the drug to be sold at health food stores and grocery stores.
Kratom’s legal status has drawn criticism from medical experts who argue the drug can help treat pain and anxiety.
The Drug Enforcement Administration and DEA did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Kratom has also been linked to heroin and fentanyl overdoses in Washington State.
The Washington State Department of Health and Senior Services said it was aware of an uptick in heroin and opioid overdose deaths linked to the drug.
“The opioid crisis in the United States has dramatically increased since the advent of kratom,” the department said in a statement.
“There are a number of potentially serious health risks that arise from using kratom, including the risk of overdose, addiction, and overdose deaths.”