[T]he issue of whether or not to ban kratom is an excellent litmus test of whether the Biden administration will actually use the philosophy of harm reduction to guide drug policy—or just spout the trendy catchphrase as window dressing to hide ongoing engagement in the war on drugs.
An estimated 10–16 million Americans currently use kratom as an alternative to opioids, most commonly to treat pain or as a substitute for street drugs. The herb, formally known as Mitrogyna speciosa, has a centuries-long history of use in herbal medicine in Southeast Asia—notably as a substitute for opium.
Kratom does appear to be far safer than all illegal and most prescription opioids: a CDC study of some 27,000 overdoses that occurred between 2016 and 2017 found that it was implicated in less than 1 percent of deaths. Given the large number of people who regularly use it and the low number of fatalities, researchers estimate that it is more than 1,000 times less likely to kill than typical prescription opioids.
If we are genuinely to enact harm reduction policy, we have to change this. Banning a substance that does less harm than other widely available substitutes will make things worse.