Today NPR had a wonder story on a “new” drug called krotam. It’s not really new as it’s a traditional herb (photographed above) that has been used for centuries in Asia to treat pain. I encourage you to read the whole story here; they gave it fair treatment and showed how the DEA victimizes people in pain. Krotam, if you are not familiar, has effects similar to an opioid but is not an opioid. In fact, the plant is in the same family as coffee.

Here are the key points from the NPR story:

  • The DEA wants to declare it a “schedule 1” drug, meaning it has no medical use. The DEA, which unlike the FDA doesn’t even  pretend to be a science-oriented organization, is making that determination. Doing so will only make it harder and discourage medical researchers from actually doing the real research needed to actually scientifically prove or disprove its medical usefulness.
  • This requires no legislation from Congress. The DEA is basically acting as an unelected legislature.
  • People suffering from chronic pain who have gotten addicted to opioid and are trying to escape the harmful effects of opioid have found krotam is helpful for managing their pain with fewer of the bad side effects form opioid. Many believe krotam is a solution to the opioid problem. A DEA crackdown on legal means of krotam means these victims will likely only be forced back into opioid, possibly turning to street heroin. If the DEA wanted to make our heroine epidemic worse then they have succeeded.
  • The DEA cites a mere 15 deaths due to krotam over the past three years. Of those, 14 had other drugs or illegal substances in their body that likely contributed to the death. In other words we can only be confident that krotam has killed one lone person in three years. On this alone the DEA bureaucrats decide they have enough “scientific” evidence to damn pain-suffers to street heroin and stifle the progress of medical science.

The Realities of (Drug) War

None of this can be said to have been done in the name of science. We know that Big Pharma, police unions, private for-profit prisons, and other industries that stand to lose from marijuana legalization lobby politicians to maintain marijuana prohibition. It would not be surprising to learn that the DEA’s move against krotam has more to do with bottom line of Pfizer and Corrections Corporation of America than science and compassion for your fellow man.

I wrote how the FDA is preventing progress on zika treatment. There is one more very important lesson we can learn from both the DEA and FDA’s war on drugs. Suppose that a terrible drug spreads in popularity and hundreds of thousands of people have their lives ruined. And suppose that neither the DEA nor FDA banned it. There would be public outrage, news reporters shoving microphones in the faces of politicians demanding action, hearings in Congress berating the chief bureaucrats for their inaction, etc.

Now suppose the DEA or FDA bans valuable drugs that help people, and as a result of their inability to access beneficial drugs hundreds of thousands of people have their lives ruined. Same exact outcome as the above. There would be silence. No outraged public, no news reporters confronting politicians, and no Congressional hearings.

This creates an incentive for federal bureaucracies to be overaggressive in banning drugs, even when in error, even against science. Not science, not compassion, but the fear of losing their job or facing Congressional hearings is what motivates the unelected bureaucrats who control our access to medicine.

The war on drugs is not just a war on people. It’s also a war on science.