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Florida senators move to add labeling, restrictions on kratom products

A bill could be a meaningful step toward regulating the product statewide.
 
Capsules and a powder form of kratom on display in the lab at the Department of Medicinal Chemistry in the Stetson Medical Science Building at UF on Sept. 18, 2023, in Gainesville.
Capsules and a powder form of kratom on display in the lab at the Department of Medicinal Chemistry in the Stetson Medical Science Building at UF on Sept. 18, 2023, in Gainesville. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Jan. 16|Updated Jan. 16

TALLAHASSEE — Florida lawmakers are moving ahead with a plan to impose modest limitations on kratom, the quasi-legal supplement sold in gas stations and convenience stores throughout the state.

A Senate committee on Tuesday unanimously approved SB 842, which would require packages of kratom to include dosage recommendations and other labeling. It would also place a limit on the potency of some kratom products.

The legislation could be a significant step toward potential statewide regulation of kratom, a plant from Southeast Asia that acts as a stimulant or sedative depending on the dosage. The sponsor of the bill, Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, said he plans to broaden the bill to require the products be tested by the state.

“Today we have two choices: One, do nothing and leave a big problem in the state of Florida or we can at least move forward in the regulation of this product,” Perry told senators Tuesday.

Last year, lawmakers passed and Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law a bill banning kratom sales to those younger than 21. But that bill placed no other restrictions on kratom products.

Kratom, typically sold as a green dusty powder that consumers mix in drinks or consume in a pill, has become increasingly popular. Advocates say it’s a safer alternative to opioids, but federal authorities have said there’s no evidence to establish kratom’s safety.

The Food and Drug Administration issued an import alert for kratom in 2014, allowing it to be refused at the border by federal officials, but it is legal to be sold nearly everywhere in Florida and many other states. Six states — and Sarasota County — have banned it.

The substance was the subject of a multipart investigation last year by the Tampa Bay Times, which revealed that more than 580 people in Florida died of kratom-related overdoses in the previous 10 years. Most of the deaths were caused by a fatal mixture of kratom and at least one other substance, but autopsy reports showed 46 people overdosed solely on the herb.

The Times investigation, “Deadly Dose,” also found that many kratom products don’t have dosing instructions, a list of ingredients or sometimes any label at all, leaving customers to determine product safety on their own. Kratom brands often rely on a labyrinth of corporations and limited liability companies to operate under the radar, the investigation found.

The bill as currently drafted would prohibit the sale of kratom products in Florida if they don’t include directions “for the safe and effective use of the product, including, but not limited to, a suggested serving size, on the product’s packaging or label.”

The labels would also be prohibited from claiming that the product is “intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any medical condition or disease.”

Penalties for violating the provision would be modest: an administrative fine of $500 for the first offense and no more than $1,000 for subsequent offenses.

The bill would also place some limits on the potency of kratom products, including by prohibiting them from being combined with any dangerous nonkratom ingredients.

Kratom’s effects are largely due to the level of chemical compounds, called alkaloids, included in each product.

The legislation targets one alkaloid — 7-hydroxymitragynine — while not addressing the plant’s best-studied chemical compound, mitragynine. Under the bill, producers couldn’t sell kratom in which the percentage of 7-hydroxymitragynine is greater than 2% of the product’s alkaloid content.

That’s far higher than recommended by three researchers consulted by the Times for its series. One suggested that products should be allowed to contain no more than 0.04% 7-hydroxymitragynine.

Perry said afterward that he plans on meeting with researchers at the University of Florida who have studied kratom.

During Tuesday’s hearing, two women who traveled from Tampa urged lawmakers to impose further restrictions on kratom, citing the Times’ series.

“Even though some people are using it to get off opioids, it actually is addictive and some people are in treatment for kratom,” said Ellen Snelling with the Hillsborough County Anti-Drug Alliance.

The legislation has the support of the kratom industry’s most influential advocacy group, the American Kratom Association, which has told the public and legislatures across the country that the herb cannot be fatal unless it’s contaminated or laced with drugs like fentanyl.

The association’s chief lobbyist, C. McClain “Mac” Haddow, told senators Tuesday that while medical examiners have found kratom to be the sole drug in some fatal overdoses, the toxicology tests were not detailed enough in those instances.

“This is not an issue about whether kratom was the sole cause of death, but rather resources applied to, and drug screens done by, medical examiners,” Haddow said.

Times staff writer Kirby Wilson contributed to this report.