by Hope Harrington Oakes

On Tuesday, March 5, 2019 the town of Caledonia joined other communities and counties in Mississippi in banning the drug Kratom, a natural mind-altering mood enhancement drug that is extremely addictive and has, in an alarmingly short amount of time, caused devastation and mayhem in our community. A task force committee made up area law enforcement, counselors and others have been speaking out and educating the public on the dangers of Kratom for several months. Thanks to their hard work and dedication, the substance has been banned in several communities, including the cities of Columbus, Pontotoc, New Albany and more.  The committee appeared before the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors last month to ask that it be banned within the county.

Lt. Eddie Hawkins with the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics appeared before the Caledonia Aldermen and Alderwomen to ask that they, too, ban the drug. In his remarks, Hawkins stated, “We formed a task force here in Lowndes County to look at some of the problems that we’re dealing with on a day-to-day basis here. One of the biggest problems that we’ve come across is the drug Kratom. Now, Kratom is probably the best-kept secret of drug users, people that are addicted. This drug is being sold in convenience stores across the counter, and the problem with this drug is there is no regulation, no quality control (so you don’t actually know what you’re buying). This drug comes from Indonesia and is a plant material from the kratom plant. This plant is ground into a powder form and has several different chemicals that act with the receptors in the brain just like opioids would.”

“Everybody has heard about the opioid crisis that we’re seeing across the country, with all the overdose deaths,” he said. “Last year, we’ve had more deaths related to overdoses than we did to gunshots or cars. It’s a huge problem across the United States. Now, what we are seeing is people trying to supplement their addiction by changing their drug of choice from the opioids and buy this Kratom. With it being not regulated, anyone can walk into convenience store and buy it across the counter. It comes in small bottles you see in cases on the counter. These products are being sold to anybody and everybody. There’s no limit to how much you can buy and there’s no quality control on the product you can buy. What’s in the product? You don’t know. That’s the problem.”

One chemical ingredient of Kratom is 7-hydroxymitragynine, which is 13 times more powerful than morphine. Hawkins said, “This reacts to the body in the same way as morphine. Children are able to buy this product. We presented this same ordinance to the city of Columbus on February 5.  The city of Columbus immediately banned the substance under emergency schedule and basically making it illegal to possess it, to sell it or have it in the convenience stores. That night, they signed an ordinance banning the substance. We presented it on February 4th to the Lowndes County Supervisors and they set up a public hearing (for March 15) so that the public can have input and come in and speak about this. Columbus acted on it immediately.”

Hawkins went on to describe the process of becoming addicted to the drug, as well as the large amounts of money some people spend on the drug. He also talked about how, since the ordinance was passed in Columbus, and the drug is illegal in the entire state of Alabama, people from both places are traveling to Caledonia to buy the drug. Hawkins then showed photos of random streets in and around Caledonia showing dozens and dozens of small empty bottles of Kratom thrown from vehicles.

Upon hearing all the evidence presented to the council, and after much discussion about the issue, the Aldermen and Alderwomen voted unanimously to ban Kratom within the town of Caledonia, effective immediately. If someone is caught selling it or having it in their possession, there will be a $1,000 fine and a maximum of 6 months in jail. They granted 6 days for store owners to come into compliance. There is now a bill in front of the Mississippi legislature to ban Kratom, state-wide.

Hawkins said, “Of course, we introduced the findings of our committee so that we could tell the Board of Aldermen here what the problem was. They listened to the evidence and turned around and passed an ordinance banning this substance in their community. The substance is very dangerous, causing overdose deaths across the state and we want to eliminate the sell of this to anybody. We have documented proof that kids can buy this stuff, they have access to it. This task force that we have put together is made up of citizens who live here in Lowndes County, coming together realizing that we have problems and are doing something about it. There are other issues, too. It’s something that needs to be addressed, but we can work on them, too.”