DEA cracks down on kratom served at many kava bars

Kratom, served at some kava bars throughout Palm Beach County, will soon be considered in the same class of illegal drugs as heroin, LSD, marijuana and Ecstasy.

The Drug Enforcement Administration announced Tuesday its intention to place the active materials in the kratom plant into the Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.

Kavasutra in Lake Worth is one of many kava bars to have opened in south Florida in recent years. (Thomas Cordy/The Palm Beach Post)
Kavasutra in Lake Worth is one of many kava bars to have opened in south Florida in recent years . (Thomas Cordy/The Palm Beach Post)

“Kratom is abused for its ability to produce opioid-like effects and is often marketed as a legal alternative to controlled substances,” the DEA said in a statement.

The drug also has been used to wean addicts off stronger drugs like heroin, cocaine, and methadone. Researchers at the University of Mississippi say it may even act as a suppressor for such highly addictive drugs.

The DEA crackdown is a victory for advocates who have warned of the dangers of kratom and also a financial hit for the several kava bars that operate from Boca Raton to Palm Beach Gardens.

“I think it is awesome. I am very happy that someone has listened to what we have been saying for the past three years,” said Linda Mautner, a Delray Beach resident.

Mautner blames her son Ian’s suicide in July 2014 on addiction to kratom. She says the drug is “seemingly benign” because it is touted as “all natural. She said Kava bars are very lucrative businesses and can lure unsuspecting young people into addiction.

“I hope this is right thing and I hope it will save lives,” she said. Currently, the mother has established a foundation in hopes of building a center for continuum of care for alcoholics and addicts once they finish their 30-day treatment.

 

Linda Mautner speaks about kratom and asks to have age restrictions on the sale of the herbal substance during the Palm Beach County Commission meeting in West Palm Beach, Fla. on Tuesday, December 2, 2014. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)
Linda Mautner speaks about kratom a during a Palm Beach County Commission meeting in December  2014. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)

Most kava bars contacted did not want to  comment on the DEA’s move, but James Hare, manager of Native Kava in Boynton Beach, said the DEA is in overkill mode when it has been shown by researchers to have medicinal purposes.

“It’s crazy to go from zero to a schedule I substance. It is irresponsible,” he said.

Hare said most of the problems, such as so-called overdoses, associated with kratom comes from extracts in which other substances are added or it is mixed with other drugs by the user. There is even synthetic kratom.

“There is a market for it synthetic blends and people are having an adverse affect and they are blaming it on kratom itself,” Hare said.

 

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Kratom comes in numerous forms, law enforcement says.

Kratom just doesn’t come in a drink served in coconut shell at kava bars. Law enforcement has seized it in powder, plant, capsules and even drug patches.

“Because the identity, purity levels, and quantity of these substances are uncertain and inconsistent, they pose significant adverse health risks to users,” the DEA stated.

The Centers for Disease Control says kratom abuse can lead to agitation, irritability, and hypertension. The DEA is aware of 15 kratom-related deaths between 2104 and 2016.

Kratom, from a tropical tree native to Southeast Asia, can have stimulant effects at low doses and sedative effects at high doses, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

It is banned in Thailand, Australia, Myanmar, Malaysia. Several U.S. states have also moved to make it illegal, but Florida never followed suit after legislation failed.

 

Epi-Pen crisis sends Boynton Beach mom to Canada

A Boynton Beach mother says she hopes to buy EpiPens in Canada for her 8-year-old son after the price of the life-saving product for allergies skyrocketed in the U.S. by 400 percent.

Anna Pickman’s son, Zander, has a severe food allergy that her doctor says could be fatal. “The allergy is so bad he can’t even touch anything containing milk. Just from touching it, he breaks out in hives,” she said.

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Families of children with allergies s who need EpiPens have been hit with a 400 percent increase in the product.

Every school year she buys EpiPens for home and for school. This year when she went to CVS to buy them and was told that the medicine would cost $575 for one package of two (the dose is often two shots),

She thought it was $5.75.

Then when she said she needed another and the pharmacist said it would cost her total of $1,100.

“Then my jaw dropped. I don’t have $1,100 in my pocket,” Pickman said.

Pickman said in past years she has paid $100 and even nothing with a coupon and insurance. This August, her insurance said the cost was not covered because she had not met her deductible.

Heather Bresch – the CEO of Mylan, the company that makes EpiPens – has come under intense fire   surrounding the recent 400-percent increase in her company’s allergy injector that is used for peanut, milk and other food allergies, as well as for those allegeric to bee stings.

Mylan’s profits from selling EpiPens hit $1.2 billion in 2015. The drug in EpiPens is actually generic but Bloomberg reports that the epinephrine-delivery system by Mylan represented 40 percent of the company’s operating profits.

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Anna Pickman with her son, Zander, says she would have had to pay nearly $1,100 for EpiPens for her sons’ milk allergy.

In response to the backlash, Mylan is offering a generic EpiPen for half the price, or about $300 for a pack of two. It also has said it would increase financial assistance for uninsured patients. But the company has refused to reduce the price, meaning that either insurance or the patient ends up picking up the tab.

Pickman said she found it interesting that Bresch has received an increase in her CEO pay and that company has aggressively marketed the product.

She says there is only word to describe the EpiPen price gouging: greed.

Pickman’s husband, Sarge, will soon travel to Canada and she has done research and found that the product is far less expensive north of the border where drug costs are regulated. She hopes with prescription in hand she can get the much-needed life-saving medication for her son there.

In the meantime, she has a few EpiPens that have not expired and will rely on those until her husband heads to Canada with fingers crossed.

Is a new potent designer drug behind vicious Martin County attacks?

UPDATED 3:40 p.m. What is causing young men to viciously and randomly attack couples in their home in Martin County?

Sheriff William Snyder says investigators found a tantalizing clue after a second such attack this weekend in a Stuart neighborhood: a designer drug in the bath salt class that didn’t initially show up in any police database.

Snyder at a Monday news conference identified the substance as dibutylone, a type of hallucigenic bath salt. Users online warn of the powerful drug, calling it “a beast.”

Nico Gallo, 19,  went “cannonballing” through a window of a Hibiscus Park residence around 2 a.m. Sunday morning where a mother and son battled him from one end of the house to another until deputies subdued him, the sheriff said.

Gallo exhibited “extreme strength and a high tolerance to pain” early Sunday morning. The mother hit Gallo several times with a baseball bat, but it had no affect on the drugged-out teen.

What is even more concerning to Snyder is that the assault was very similar to one on Aug. 15, in which authorities say Austin Harrouff, also 19, stabbed a couple to death in their Tequesta garage, biting one victim severely.

Bath salts are the street name for a designer drug that is anything but for a soothing soak. It is a sister illicit substance to flakka and in the cathinone family of drugs often sold over the internet as legal products.

And just like Harrouff after the Aug. 15 attack, the suspect was hospitalized, unconscious and intubated, usually done to assist breathing. On Monday, Gallo was listed in stable condition.

“There is a lot of similarities, unfortunately,” Snyder said.