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A Boalsburg woman died last year after taking kratom. Should it be banned in Pa.?

After kratom death in Centre County, lawmaker pushes to make it a controlled substance

Pennsylvania Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Centre, and Centre County District Attorney Bernie Cantorna introduced a bill that would make it illegal to posses kratom. The herbal substance is often used as a treatment for a variety of medical conditions.
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Pennsylvania Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Centre, and Centre County District Attorney Bernie Cantorna introduced a bill that would make it illegal to posses kratom. The herbal substance is often used as a treatment for a variety of medical conditions.

When a Boalsburg woman died in November because of a kratom overdose, District Attorney Bernie Cantorna knew something needed to change.

Meagan Martain, 34, was in a vehicle crash and subsequently struggled with prescription opioids. In an attempt to manager her pain, she purchased two bottles of kratom from Jamaica Junction in downtown State College on Nov. 3 and died two days later, Cantorna said.

He responded by calling state Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Rush Township, who on Monday announced plans to introduce a bill to classify kratom as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, like heroin or LSD. Kratom is a Southeast Asia-based plant consumed for its stimulant effects and as an opioid substitute, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“People are desperate,” Conklin said. “When somebody hears that they finally may have found the miracle to everything they want, they want it. They wanna have the quality of life that they had before the accident. ... So they find the supplement and they take it. Unbeknownst to them, they have no idea what’s in it.”

The Drug Enforcement Administration includes kratom on its Drug of Concern list, which lists substances that are not regulated, but pose a risk to those who abuse them. The substance is unregulated in Pennsylvania, but is banned in 10 states, the District of Columbia and Sarasota, Florida.

“When your district attorney is proactive ... and he tells you, ‘We have a problem,’ you begin to listen,” Conklin said. “After 20 years of public service, I’ve never had the district attorney be proactive and try to stop incidents before they happen.”

Kratom at Jamaica Junction
Kratom in sold at State College store Jamaica Junction. State Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Rush, announced plans Monday to introduce a bill that would add kratom to the state’s list of controlled substances. Bret Pallotto bpallotto@centredaily.com

Cantorna, who has previously said “we will not arrest ourselves out of the opioid crisis,” said the legislation is needed because kratom is dangerous in its current form. Conklin echoed Cantorna’s thoughts, saying makers of the substance may be doing so without concern for individuals’ safety.

“You have individuals that are selling this — manufacturing it — going out and they’re finding that success story and they’re preying on individuals that are in pain,” Conklin said. “They’re preying on individuals that all they want to do is to get their life back. And they’ll do anything to do it. At the end of their day, they risk their life.”

On Thursday, Cantorna hand-delivered a letter to Jamaica Junction owner Michael Hultberg, urging him to immediately stop selling kratom.

“I am writing this letter to document that you have been advised of the risks associated with the sale and use of kratom and that one of your customers has overdosed and died as a direct result of that product,” Cantorna wrote in the letter. “This letter puts you on notice that the sale of kratom poses a risk of serious injury and death to the public at large.”

Store manager Justin Minnick said he has “zero desire” to harm another individual. He declined to say whether the store would continue to sell the substance.

“I will turn down money in a heartbeat if I think that you would ever do anything to harm yourself with it. I am not here to cause anyone’s life pain or take anything from them. That’s not what we’re here for; we’re here to help people.” Minnick said.

Bret Pallotto primarily reports on courts and crime for the Centre Daily Times. He grew up in Lewistown and graduated from Lock Haven University.

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