COLUMBUS — A group that advocates for consumer access to the herbal supplement kratom says the State of Ohio Board of Pharmacy erred in approving a proposal to ban the product that has been touted as way to fight the opioid epidemic.

The board on Wednesday voted to approve its proposal to classify the Southeast Asian herb as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, which would place it in the same class as heroin, LSD and other illegal drugs. It now faces review by two other government bodies.

The board was not swayed by scientific studies the association presented refuting U.S. Food and Drug Administration findings, said C.M. Haddow, a public policy fellow at the Virginia-based American Kratom Association. Opposed to bans, the association is lobbying in Ohio and elsewhere for laws that would make the product illegal for minors, require labeling and regulate for quality and purity.

Pharmacy board spokesman Cameron McNamee said staff scoured medical journals to provide board members with scientific research and also presented them with the research provided by the Kratom Association.

He said regulation instead of a ban could represent a "middle ground," but "at this point the board feels the science behind it is more of a concern from a public health perspective."

The leaves of the tropical kratom tree, native to Southeast Asia, contain substances that can have mind-altering effects, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Haddow said its use increased in the United States after soldiers who fought in Vietnam found it reduced fatigue and pain.

The Kratom Association estimates that there are currently 5 million users in the U.S, and it is sold by a number of retailers in central Ohio.

It is banned in six states and the District of Columbia.

The FDA has reported 44 deaths associated with kratom since 2011, but Haddow says a review by the Kratom Association shows that figure represents global deaths.

The pharmacy board vote came two weeks after a study published by the journal Clinical Toxicology showed that reports to U.S. poison control centers about kratom rose from 13 in 2011 to 682 in 2017. In that time period, there were 11 U.S. deaths associated with kratom exposure, including two after exposure to kratom only, according to the study by researchers at Nationwide Children's Hospital, Northeast Ohio Medical University, the Central Ohio Poison Center and Ohio State University.

The board vote also came two weeks after the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State hosted a panel discussion on kratom. Among panelists were Haddow and Dr. Robert Weber, administrator for pharmacy services at Ohio State's Wexner Medical Center, who has a far different opinion of the herb than Haddow.

Weber said in a Friday interview that kratom stimulates opiate receptors in the brain, making it similar in action to opioid medications.

"This should be considered to be a dangerous substance because of the fact that it has very similar characteristics to opiates," he said.