The House of Representatives faces nearly two dozen votes on new drug-related bills in an effort to stem the addiction epidemic. Among those bills is H.R. 2851, The Stop Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues (SITSA) Act, a bill aimed at Kratom and other synthetic drug imports, even those that have not been created yet.
The bill, if passed and made into law, will significantly expand the powers of the Department of Justice, under the guise of unilaterally prohibiting any synthetic drugs the DOJ decides is chemically similar to currently banned drugs. People who import such drugs would face similar penalties to people who import substances that are alreadu banned.
While the measure may have been proposed with good intentions, critics say that if passed, a new era will be entered in the War on Drugs, and it may cause more harm than good. Indeed, it seems that many people with opioid use disorders and other addictions import drugs online. While this has given rise to overdoses from drugs tainted with fentanyl and other opioids, the punishment associated with one person importing a synthetic drug would be similar to people who are caught with narcotics; swift and indiscriminate punishment is predicted.
Kratom is just one drug that would be affected by these laws. A popular drug for people withdrawing from opioids, seeking pain relief and help with psychiatric disorders, the government has been making moves to ban the substance from import for the past two years.
It is unknown how many people import synthetic drugs from overseas, but there are thousands of Kratom users who showed up online to comment when the FDA considered banning the substance. While many Kratom users say that the drug has helped them quit opioids, the government has taken issue with the fact that Kratom is currently sold as supplement with no oversight. They say it is simply replacing one drug for another. One Kratom dealer earlier this year was blamed for an outbreak of salmonella, while other dealers have been accused of adding drugs such as fentanyl to their supplements, making them unsafe for consumption and causing overdoses.
Other drugs, such as synthetic marijuana, experimental opioids, and club drugs are often imported as well by people who use drugs recreationally. They would be penalized under the new legislation as well.
While many drug dealers import drugs such as opioids in bulk, the bill does not specify quantities or differentiate a person who is importing for personal use. What this means for people with substance use disorders is that they can face years of jail or prison, without getting any help for their disorder. Critics say that this is just a new way to criminalize addiction without creating any solutions to our current crisis. As almost any addicted person could tell you, criminalizing a substance and its use does nothing to quell addiction.
The bill has drawn widespread criticism from both sides of the political spectrum, including the conservative think tank FreedomWorks. “Instead of passing legislation that would have a negative fiscal and societal impact on communities across America, Congress should instead continue the work of criminal justice reform advocates across the country,” says Adam Brandon. “Increasing access to treatment opportunities and targeting the international drug trade, not addicted individuals, would best enhance public safety and reduce the threat presented by the opioid crisis.”
The bill should be voted on within the next two weeks.