LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — For Peter Guidry, a disabled Air Force veteran, kratom is freedom from pain and the awful side effects of narcotics prescribed by the Veterans Administration.

His voice was among many represented in the debate over kratom during testimony on Assembly Bill 322 (AB322), an effort to properly regulate the herbal opioid-like drug. The bill is not about banning kratom, but would require the products to be registered in Nevada before they can be sold. Labeling requirements and a prohibition against sales to minors are also included.

And regulations are badly needed, according to Mac Haddow of the American Kratom Association. “Leaving it unregulated is the Wild West, and that’s where the bad actors come in and actually are able to adulterate products because kratom doesn’t give you a natural euphoric high.”

Guidry is one of “tens of thousands of Nevadans” that safely use kratom, Haddow said. Nationally, 15 million people use it, he said. Advocates say it saves lives.

Guidry said he has had no side effects since he began taking it 12 years ago, unlike when he had a fentanyl patch from the VA. He suffered a tear in his gastrointestinal tract, and he was throwing up blood.

He said labeling that’s required by the bill is important, mentioning “gas station” kratom concerns. Sales in smoke shops are sometimes targeted in the debate over how kratom should be handled. “Some of the products are not labeled correctly. We don’t know what we’re taking.”

Debate over dangers

The dangers lie in mixing kratom with other substances, and Monday’s hearing in Carson City showed just how hot the debate can get. Haddow said kratom has been “demonized by well-intentioned people” who don’t use the same science as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

“We’ve looked at every single death — autopsy report and tox screen that is publicly available — they’ve been examined by independent forensic toxicologists. We can’t find a single one attributable to kratom alone,” Haddow said.

That touched a nerve with Republican Assemblyman P.K. O’Neill, who represents part of Washoe County, along with Carson City and Storey County. According to O’Neill, the Washoe County Coroner’s Office has directly attributed overdose deaths to kratom use — and 35 deaths in Northern Nevada directly or indirectly attributed to kratom.

O’Neill said, “Sir, I’m going to question some of your authority and interest in the proferring of this. In questioning the Washoe County medical examiners that they don’t have the expertise to call cause of death, I’m just going to let it ride. We’ll talk later about it, but thank you very much for your statements. I’ll disagree with them, respectfully.”

Kratom in Clark County

Beth Schmidt, representing the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, said the Clark County Coroner’s Office had recorded two deaths from “acute kratom intoxication” — one in 2017 and one last year.

“Clark County has seen a year-on-year increase in deaths partially or wholly related to kratom,” Schmidt said. “Since 2019, 59 people have died in what the Clark County coroner has determined was the result partially or wholly to combined drug intoxication and that one of the combined drugs does include kratom.”

Schmidt said the most common drug detected along with kratom was fentanyl. Others included heroin, methamphetamine, oxycodone and cocaine.

Lea Case of the Nevada Psychiatric Association also spoke in opposition, citing reports of kratom addiction and overdosing. She pushed for certification of product sellers, not just registration.

Path to regulation

AB322 would take the Nevada Legislature further down the path it started along in 2019, when it passed consumer protection legislation. It would establish authority to set dosage and labeling requirements, and assign responsibility to state agencies to regulate the products.

That regulation is undecided at this point. Initially, the Nevada Board of Oriental Medicine was identified as the regulating body. But that could be passed to the Board of Agriculture or the Board of Pharmacy. Schmidt and others said the Board of Pharmacy should take a role.

Assemblyman Duy Nguyen (D-Las Vegas).

“We still have a lot of work to do,” Assemblyman Duy Nguyen (D-Las Vegas) said, inviting more communication with agencies. Nguyen is the bill’s primary sponsor, along with Assembly Speaker Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas), Assemblywoman Cecelia González (D-Las Vegas) and Republican Senator Ira Hansen, who represents most of northeastern Nevada.

Haddow gave the Assembly Commerce and Labor Committee an overview of how kratom is being regulated across the nation — all in the shadow of an FDA move more than a decade ago to ban the substance. That attempt, eventually denied by the Drug Enforcement Administration, has continued to color opinions on kratom.

Nine states have passed or are about to pass the kratom consumer protection act, Haddow said. Six states banned kratom as the FDA pursued a ban, but four have now backtracked.