By Mark Ackerman
DENVER (CBS4)- The Drug Enforcement Agency is expected to ban a drug that's been growing in popularity in Colorado on Friday. The DEA will classify kratom as a Schedule I drug on par with marijuana and heroin.
In a statement, the DEA called kratom an "imminent threat" and said the agency was aware of 15 kratom-related deaths over the past three years.
After the DEA labeled kratom an "imminent threat" the Denver's Department of Environmental Health forced 15 businesses to pull kratom from the shelves at local stores. Some were ordered to issue recalls on kratom products.
Kratom comes from a tropical tree in Southeast Asia. It is sold in various forms including powders, capsules and in liquid form and can give users a euphoric effect when consumed.
Last week, kratom users gathered in front of the state Capitol in Denver demanding the DEA reconsider its decision to ban kratom. Many of the protestors said kratom saved their lives by helping them get off prescription pain pills. One woman said she was taking such pills for a back injury, under the care of a doctor.
"I was sitting at home and because opiates weren't working and thought I should try heroin," the woman said.
Instead of turning to illegal drugs, the woman turned to kratom and said she's kicked a 10-year opiate addiction.
Liz Elliott handed out free kratom samples at the event. She said she uses kratom as a tea every morning instead of other drugs.
She says the impending kratom ban is "just devastating to me" and the drug has "really been a lifesaver."
But the DEA says U.S. poison centers have received 660 calls about kratom exposure. Seven cases have been reported to poison centers in Colorado this year, with moderate complications.
Amy Lowe, an addictions counselor at the Arapahoe House rehab centers, says she's treated patients addicted to kratom.
"The ingredient kratom is unpredictable and can be dangerous," she said kratom often acts as a placeholder for other drugs and withdrawal from kratom can be just as difficult as heroin.
"It is harmful because it keeps the addiction and the symptoms going and alive." Lowe said in the short-term, a kratom ban could be really hard on users, unless they get treatment.
"I can't imagine living and not having kratom in my life," said Elliott. "It's going to take me back to find other things to cope, which will probably kill me."
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