ABERDEEN • Monroe County is joining several counties and cities in the region to ban the sale of Kratom at convenience and tobacco stores.
The addictive product is currently available over the counter at some stores in Monroe County, but during a recent board of supervisors meeting, language was approved to add an ordinance banning Kratom.
Representatives from the Crime and Addiction Task Force of the Lowndes County Foundation requested for supervisors to pass the ban. The group previously convinced six other counties and seven cities in North Mississippi to issue Kratom bans, and it plans to make the same request to the Aberdeen and Amory boards of aldermen.
“We have documentation where people have $800 a week habits that they’re spending on buying these drugs,” said Lt. Eddie Hawkins of the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, who started his career with the Aberdeen Police Department. “People are now changing their drug of choice from the opioid addiction and starting to use this Kratom. They’re trading one addiction for another. We’ve had a lot of people say, ‘This is the best drug ever because it helps with our pain,’ but who goes to a gas station to manage their pain?”
In recent weeks, Itawamba and Tishomingo counties have banned the substance, as have the cities of Fulton, Mantachie and Pontotoc, while New Albany and Union County passed bans in 2017. Tupelo and Lee County have not joined the growing list, but Lee County is looking into a possible ban.
“We have seen a small amount of it in the county,” said Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson. “We are looking into it (a possible ban) but we’re still doing research.
“We have had some situations and it is definitely a concern.”
Kratom is not regulated by the Federal Drug Administration, and the agency has not conducted tests on it. It is derived from a tree in southeastern Asia.
“Kratom is the new legal way to get high,” said Dr. Charles Rhea, an orthopedic surgeon in Columbus. “It’s been cleverly promoted as an incense, by written not for human use, and as an energy supplement and by doing this, it has flown under the radar by getting any scrutiny by the FDA or the drug enforcement people.”
He added it’s not picked up by standard drug tests, making it a liability for employers, law enforcement and health care providers.
Hawkins said some stores have Kratom products, which also include mood enhancers, on display in cases.
“We’ve got documentation from a store in Tupelo that has been selling this stuff on the books. People can’t afford their habit, so they’re offering them credit. There’s a lady who owes a convenience store $4,800 for purchase of Kratom, so she’s taken rings and TVs and everything else like a pawn shop to try to support her addiction to these products,” Hawkins said.
Task force members have worked with Sen. Chuck Younger and Rep. Jeff Smith in trying to pass statewide legislation to ban Kratom, but it died in committee during this year’s session. Alabama and Arkansas, however, have banned the product statewide. Tennessee previously banned the product but reversed that in April 2018 through House Bill No. 1832 / Senate Bill No. 2258.
In Mississippi, Hawkins said there were 11 documented deaths last year related to Kratom
“We actually busted a man that had tablets from a convenience store about three weeks ago, and he was completely climbing the walls,” said Monroe County Sheriff Cecil Cantrell.
The product was introduced in the United States 10 years ago and in this area three years ago.
Hawkins said a group of lobbyists prevented Congress from initiating a ban due to lack of FDA documentation stating Kratom is dangerous.
By the ordinance passing, it was also stated Monroe County residents won’t be able to have Kratom shipped to them through online purchases.
The county will publish a notice with the date the countywide ban will go into effect to give store owners time to get rid of the products. County board attorney David Houston will determine the ban’s effective date.
Daily Journal reporter William Moore contributed to this story.