In Pontianak, the capital of the Indonesian province of West Kalimantan, farmers and sellers sometimes ship hundreds of tons of kratom a month, Bloomberg previously reported. Kratom is native to Indonesia and several other southeast Asian countries, but Indonesia’s kratom-friendly laws have made it a global hub.
Out of all the kratom that passes through Pontianak, 95 percent goes to the US, AFP reports. And despite the FDA issuing “import alerts” giving US authorities permission to seize international kratom shipments in 2012 and 2014, kratom is still flowing into the US in pretty major quantities.
Inverse reviewed recent shipping records from Indonesian kratom sellers showing packages that contain anywhere from 4 to 44 pounds of kratom at a time going to the US and Canada, as well as Peru (where shippers often send their leaves for further processing).
Rio Rinaldi, a kratom vendor Inverse spoke to through WhatsApp, showed us a warehouse full of wrapped pallets that he said contain a total of 27 tons of kratom. He sells powdered leaf and concentrated kratom extracts through his company, which is called Borneo Botanicals98 and operates over Twitter and Whatsapp. The warehouse where he processes leaves into powder and packages them for shipment is in Pontianak. He buys his leaves from farmers in the surrounding parts of West Kalimantan, where they harvest from mature Mitragyna speciosa trees on the banks of the Kapuas River.
Rinaldi says he has never had issues with packages being confiscated by customs officials in the US, and he doesn’t seem worried about the publicity. Several other Indonesian kratom sellers told Inverse the same thing. After all, growing and exporting kratom is legal in Indonesia.
Set before the backdrop of the opioid overdose crisis that claims tens of thousands of lives per year in the US, an unregulated drug with opioid properties that’s pouring in from overseas seems like an obvious target for law enforcement and lawmakers.
And as the FDA, CDC, and DEA have circled around kratom, more and more advocates claim it helps them, and research labs in the US have begun examining the drug more closely, White says there’s still a crucial misunderstanding of kratom’s risks and benefits in the public discussion.