Kratom may sound something out of Superman, but the herbal supplement is the latest drug to be banned from minors in Illinois.
A new state law takes effect Jan. 1 prohibiting youngsters from getting their hands on the plant known as Mitragyna speciosa from southeast Asia. Commonly sold in a concentrated pill form, it can offer a high similar to Vicodin or heroin but is legally sold in stores, officials said.
"When people are purchasing things from the store, they believe it's safe to ingest," said Rep. Dennis Reboletti, R-Elmhurst, who led the effort to ban kratom.
The former Will County prosecutor said there haven't been any known overdose deaths in the area. He said kratom hasn't been regulated federally because it hasn't been studied enough.
"I think if you wait for the federal government to regulate something like this, you'll be waiting forever," Reboletti said.
Kratom is marketed as a pain reliever and some claim it can be used to help wean people off of heroin.
Addiction is a primary concern for law enforcement officials.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said kratom is on its list of drugs and chemicals of concern. Kratom as a synthetic drug has also been banned statewide in Indiana, and other states are reportedly considering regulation too.
"Because these drugs are sold over the Internet and often marketed as safe and legal, children in particular are at risk," said Dennis Wichern, special agent in charge of the DEA's Chicago field division.
Reboletti said he's been working to regulate the drug for more than a year. An outright ban gained no traction in the General Assembly, so he settled for limiting its access to minors.
"It mirrors or is very similar to giving a child Vicodin. It's addictive, it can increase heart rate and it can increase other physical conditions," Reboletti said. "It's a dangerous situation that young people shouldn't involve themselves in."
Kratom addicts have been observed showing psychotic symptoms, including hallucinations, delusions and confusion. Nausea is another common side effect. It cannot be detected in a drug test, officials said.
"The use of kratom, particularly by younger users, is an emerging concern. It's part of an increasing number of new drugs that are being introduced by individuals hoping to circumvent current federal drug laws," Wichern said by email.
Advocates maintain that it is a harmless, natural supplement but, Reboletti said there's no research proving medicinal benefit.
"The jury is still out on that," he said.
A state public awareness campaign, particularly to notify parents of the new drug, is in the works.
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