(Bethany Blankley, The Center Square) Several federal and state agencies have issued warnings about illicit drugs such as fentanyl being laced with Xyzaline, an animal tranquilizer used by veterinarians, referred to as “tranq” and a zombie drug.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency warns that Xyzaline has been detected in an increasing number of illicit drug mixtures and a growing number of overdose deaths nationwide.
“Xylazine is most frequently reported in combinations with two or more substances present,” the DEA explains. It’s not an opioid, isn’t a controlled substance and is only authorized for veterinarian use. It’s purchased by criminal actors to mix with illicit drugs to “increase the profit for illicit drug traffickers.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also issued a warning to health-care professionals about fentanyl, heroin, and other illicit drugs being laced with Xylazine. Tranq-linked overdoses aren’t reversible solely through the use of Naloxone/Narcan, it warns. The generic and brand drug has proven to successfully reverse opioid overdoses if administered quickly enough. Health care professionals are still encouraged to administer Naloxone/Narcan but are encouraged to consider Xylazine exposure when administering it, the FDA warns. Xylazine exposure also presents symptoms of severe, necrotic skin ulcerations, described as “skin rot,” it says, which are difficult to heal.
While Xylazine has been detected in drugs in the northeast for over a decade, increasing reports of it being detected in the west prompted agencies in California and Arizona to issue recent warnings.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the greatest number of overdoses linked to Xylazine have been reported in Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont. Connecticut’s chief medical examiner has been screening for Xylazine in toxicology panels since 2013 when investigating all suspected drug overdose deaths, the CDC reports. In 2019, nearly 6% of unintentional drug overdoses reported in Connecticut tested positive for Xylazine. By July 2020, this number doubled to nearly 12%.
Philadelphia and New York City officials also have increasingly detected Xylazine in drug screenings, prompting Philadelphia’s health department to publish an advisory and New York City overdose prevention centers to also test for it.
State agencies in North Carolina and Rhode Island are also working to develop a way to efficiently and quickly test for tranq. Maryland officials are testing for it, as are medical examiners in Vermont, after tranq-linked overdose deaths in Vermont increased from 29 cases in 2021 to 54 in the first 10 months of 2022, according to a Pew Trust analysis.
Earlier this month, Senate Majority Leader Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, sounded the alarm after dozens of tranq-linked overdoses were reported in New York, including 40 in one week in Onondaga County.
Schumer also announced a three-pronged plan to combat the zombie drug plaguing New Yorkers, including requiring the FDA “to track down illicit sources of Xylazine,” increasing funding to local law enforcement through the federal COPS Hiring Program of nearly $537 million, and supporting President Joe Biden’s plan to allocate $10 billion in grants to fund behavioral health workforce development programs and the Rural Communities Opioid Response Program among others through the Substance Use and Mental Health Services Administration.
His plan excludes targeting Mexican cartels identified by the DEA and others as the source of illicit drugs pouring into the U.S. through the southern border. It also excludes prioritizing and funding stronger southern border security measures. According to an Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center warning issued earlier this month, an emerging trend it identified is Mexican cartels lacing fentanyl with Xylazine, which is being smuggled in through the southern border.
Schumer’s plan also excludes prioritizing northern border security measures after a record number of people have been apprehended illegally entering upstate New York through Canada.
Schumer has acknowledged that tranq is coming from “overseas.” When announcing his plan, he said, “The feds need to accelerate their efforts to crack down on this drug illegally being shipped from overseas and unlawfully making its way” onto American streets. He also said, “We need an all-of-the-above approach: cutting off the flow of drugs, aid to our law enforcement, more interdiction, prevention, treatment and recovery for those suffering with addiction.”