Ariana Campellone grew up in East Greenwich, Rhode Island. It is a small community, affluent and charmingly New England. Heroin was very available there, and very good.

By age 15, Campellone was a daily user. She stopped going to school, stopped doing much of anything besides scoring drugs, doing drugs, stealing stuff, selling stuff, scoring more drugs, doing more drugs. “This was the beginning of the New England heroin epidemic,” she says. “Everyone I knew was overdosing, dying, lives falling apart, people contracting diseases from sharing needles.”

That experience was mirrored around the country. In 2014, overdoses from heroin or prescription opioids killed 30,000 people–four times as many than in 1999. Today, 3,900 new people start using prescription opioids for non-medical purposes every day. Almost 600 start taking heroin. The yearly health and social costs of the prescription opioid crisis in America? $55 billion.

Campellone kicked her habit at 19–with rehab, suboxone, and a lot of willpower–and moved out west, to the San Francisco Bay Area. She began working at a natural remedy shop in Berkeley. Her bosses and co-workers introduced her to a plethora of plant-based products, among them a tart-tasting leaf called kratom. It gives a slight, euphoric high. Like the feeling that remains when you spin around in circles, after the dizziness wears off. It was also a decent painkiller, so she’d take it when she was hurt, or on her menstrual cycle.

And, on two occasions, she used it to help with the withdrawal symptoms following heroin relapses. “Nothing really feels good when you’re withdrawing from heroin, so no matter what you’re taking, you’re still in pain and it’s pretty excruciating,” says Campellone. But kratom helped some.

Campellone never needs a prescription to get kratom. Nor does she have to visit a dealer. She buys it from an herbal remedy store–about $20 for a 4 ounce packet, which lasts about a week. When she takes too much, she gets a stomach ache. And when she does not take it, she doesn’t crave it like she craved heroin. Mostly she doesn’t think about it; it just sits in her cabinet. So, she was surprised when, on August 30, the DEA announced that it was pursuing an emergency scheduling of mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, the active alkaloids in kratom. Campellone was one of perhaps 4 or 5 million Americans who were being told, for maybe the first time, that this leaf posed an “imminent danger to public safety.”

The DEA Takes an Exception to Kratom

Biologically, kratom acts enough like an opioid that DEA considers it a threat to public safety. The agency planned to use a regulatory mechanism called emergency scheduling to place it in the same restrictive category as heroin, LSD, and cannabis. This category, Schedule I, is reserved for what the DEA considers the most dangerous drugs–those with no redeeming medical value, and a high potential for abuse.