A Tucson sub shop vending machine that attracts drug-enforcement interest


Arizona Sonora News

Not everyone who comes into East Coast Subs is there to order a sandwich.  Some customers at the small restaurant south of the University of Arizona campus go straight to the vending machine in the dining room, and pull out their wallets.

The machine dispenses 100, 40 and 10 gram packages of kratom, a substance derived from the leaves of a tropical tree found in Southeast Asia and highly valued for what some say is its near opiod-like ability to relieve pain, depression and anxiety.

Just like any vending machine, customers swipe a card or put $5 to $25 in cash, make their choice and out tumbles a bag of kratom. It is that simple.

But it is not so simple to the people at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.  They argue the substance’s narcotic-like effects on the body means it should be as a controlled substance, same as prescription painkillers.   

“A lot of people say kratom treats them for any type of chronic pain, opioid addiction and stomach problems related to menstrual cycles, that’s what has been alleged,” said Melvin Patterson, a DEA spokesman.   “We at the DEA say it has opioid-like effects on the body.”

 The DEA had intended to enforce a ban on sale and distribution of kratom at the end of September.  That would have meant the end of the vending machine in East Coast Subs, because agents would argue it was dispensing an illegal drug.

But in the face of opposition from defenders of kratom – including several members of U.S. Congress – the DEA agreed to postpone any final decision on kratom pending further review. The DEA has opened a period of public comments until Dec 1.

Defenders argue that kratom is a safe and natural alternative to opiod-based painkillers, and therefore should not be banned.

Several members of Congress, including U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon of Arizona, wrote to the DEA, and asked that the ban on kratom be delayed.  They said they understood the DEA’s desire to uphold public health and safety, and want to keep unsafe products off the market.  But they argued that the majority of thepublic believes kratom is a safe alternative to prescription opioids.

According to the DEA, kratom is distributed in multiple forms: powder, plant, capsules, tablets, liquids, gum and drug patches. Due to the different forms of kratom, the DEA said purity levels and the quantity of these substances are inconsistent and therefore it poses a significant health risk to users.

The DEA’s decision to put off the ban has given the vending machine at East Coast Subs a second lease on life.

Alongside the small black vending machine are flyers explaining kratom, how to use it in teas and recommendations of which flavor a customer should buy based on his or her symptoms.

A website for Tucson Kratom,  the company that runs the vending machine, lists all the exotic names  for the different strains of kratom. The names are related to the type of leaf used to make kratom. A red leaf is the oldest and yellow is the youngest.

According to the Tucson Kratom website, the Maeng Da blends are the company’s signature seller. It is the strongest strain of kratom. The Tucson Kratom website even suggest a particular strain of kratom called Maeng Da to help reduce opiate addiction.  

Kratom is commonly distributed through internet sales, or in some retail shops.  The vending machine in East Coast Subs is believed to be the only kratom dispenser in the Tucson area.

Keith McNesby, the owner of East Coast Subs, opened the restaurant near the University of Arizona campus 19 years ago, filling it with sports memorabilia from the East Coast and Arizona.  McNesby said he agreed to put in the vending machine six months ago, when he was approached by Anna Caffarel,  a friend who operates Tucson Kratom. 

“I see a lot of hurting people that are coming in here to buy this stuff,” McNesby said. But if the DEA ban goes into effect, McNesby says the machine will “out the door in about 22 seconds.”



7 comments Add yours
  1. The DEA is only interested in control over profits. Kratom on it’s own cannot harm a human being, studying it will show this. The pharmaceutical companies hate Kratom because a natural plant that provides significant pain relief and costs next to nothing is in direct competition to their synthetic opioids that are killing thousands while their stock holders profit each quarter.

    Kratom is awesome and the DEA needs to back off and let people find their own way. This is NOT a public health issue at all. However, the synthetic drugs prescribed by doctors ARE a gateway to heroin and THAT is insanely damaging to society.

    That is where their focus should be. They should be in LOVE with Kratom if they really did care about public health.

  2. Just a small correction.
    In article you mention that they have names are related to leaf type – is actually by the colour of veins in leaves.

  3. Redd said it right. The attempted ban on Kratom has nothing to do with public welfare. It has to do with the FDA putting pressure on DEA to ban this leaf because the FDA and some Pharmaceutical company plan to turn around synthesize the Kratom that the prostitutes (DEA) for the FDA help ban, turn it into a prescription drug and sell it back to consumers for 300% mark up. I have been taking Kratom for over 3 years now and cannot see how this botanical has this hyped up view by those who have never consumed this leaf. And the only obvious reason that I have came up with is because some company gains a high profit by completing their nonsensical objective of banning this tree. Please……it has nothing to do with any public welfare. If it did, they would help educate and give those who know nothing about the tree some for their anxiety, pain relief and so on. The DEA has failed on many fronts. So they figured they would target Kratom and no one would say anything about it. Enough is enough!!! The DEA needs to focuse on the heroin that is killing people left and right. Now that is a real epidemic.

  4. when I talk about kratom to people, they don’t know anything about it lol. When an opioid addict learns about kratom, it saves their life.

  5. Tucson Kratom has my unwaivering support, but their Kratom is really expensive. If you’re interested in trying it do yourself a favor and search online for an established vendor, you’ll end up saving a lot of money.

  6. Drug patches? lMAO ! Trying to make it seem like hard stuff, produce this drug patch containing kratom alkaloids that I can purchase. The gum might exist somewhere but it’s a gimmick at best, kratom is nowhere near strong enough to get a dose out of a piece of gum. DRUG ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES should be out enforcing narcotics laws and getting that fent and heroin off the streets, instead they are bust WASTING taxpayer dollars warring on herbs. They just made cbd oil even harder for people to get now. These guys need to go.

  7. Okay, what exactly does “opioid effects on the body” mean? I can go for a run and get “opioid effects” from my endorphins, or drink a beer and get “opioid effects” from ethanol’s indirect action on my opioid receptors. This claim is ambiguous and makes kratom sound like it acts like morphine, which is very far from the truth. Kratom does not cause respiratory depression. Babu, McCurdy, and Boyer state: “Although mitragynines agonize mu-opioid receptors, respiratory depression, coma, pulmonary edema and death have not, to our knowledge, been associated with human kratom ingestion” (Babu, McCurdy & Boyer, 2008). Ward and colleagues write: “Adverse effects from kratom are limited. Kratom use does not appear to be associated with the emesis that commonly accompanies opioid use. Interestingly, respiratory
    depression following kratom administration has not been observed” (Ward, Rosenbaum, Hernon, McCurdy & Boyer, 2011). De Moraes and others state: “In addition, MIT [mitragynine]causes much less respiratory depression and does not produce emesis or dyspnea when compared to other opioids” (De Maoraes, Moretti, Furr, McCurdy & Lanchote, 2009). The deaths that the DEA claims resulted from kratom ingestion were all poly-drug intoxications, and just because kratom was found in the blood of a deceased person is no reason to claim kratom was the sole factor. That’s like finding aspirin in the blood of a deceased subject, and then saying aspirin was why they got ill without considering other factors. It’s scary that high-ranking members of government use opinions and faulty logic when making our laws, and I certainly sniff a pharmaceutical industry influence here, because kratom has never hurt anybody in the thousands of years it has been consumed in Asia, or its history in America. Also, the DEA says that kratom varies in its composition and therefore it’s dangerous, but how in the world is banning kratom going to fix this problem? I agree with previous posters here; this nonsensical and gratuitous lawmaking has to end.

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