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Animal Tranquilizer in Illicit Drugs: 'Emerging Threat' for U.S.

Megan Hayes | News Editor

On Wednesday, April 12th, Dr. Rahul Gupta of the Office of National Drug Control Policy announced that a new and emerging mix on the streets, Fentanyl mixed with Xylazine, is an “emerging threat” for the drug and opioid crisis in the United States. Xylazine is a pharmaceutical drug intended for use in animals by veterinarians for sedation, pain management, anesthesia, and muscle relaxation. It is typically used for larger animals like horses, cattle, and sheep, but can also be used on smaller animals like dogs in safe and controlled settings by professionals. The drug has depressive effects on the central nervous system, which helps to reduce blood pressure and heart rate in animals undergoing veterinary care. Xylazine does have some hazardous side effects recorded in animals, like harmful heart conditions, so it was never approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for usage in humans for anesthetic or surgical purposes.

The reason why government officials are sharing their growing concern for Xylazine being used on the streets, especially right now in Puerto Rico where the drug is referred to as “Tranq”, is because it is not at all predictable. Xylazine does not interact with the human system, reversal drugs, or scanning methods the way other drugs would, because it is not an opioid. With the drug’s classification of a non-opioid (alpha-2 agonist, to be exact), Naloxone (also known as Narcan) has no effect on the drug or the human body to combat overdose. Naloxone is typically used in most overdose situations and is administered through the nose to the victim overdosing, and quickly and effectively blocks the influence of opiates on the brain, and restores normal breathing and heart rate. Naloxone is an extremely valuable and lifesaving reversal drug, but it is sometimes expected to fix all overdoses, which is not the case. There is no reversal for an overdose on Xylazine. Worries from the FDA, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), as well as the Biden-Harris Administration are all very valid, because Xylazine is now being used as a cheap cutting method for illicit street drugs, most of which would be reversed by Naloxone if an overdose were to occur. This is an extremely dangerous substance to have out on the streets of the United States, especially since it is being used without the knowledge of its consumers. Additionally, Xylazine does not come up on routine or postmortem toxicology reports, as the non-opioid components render it essentially invisible unless the administrators of the tests take extra screening measures, or know exactly what they are looking for.

| "By declaring Xylazine combined with Fentanyl as an emerging threat, we are being proactive in our approach to save lives and creating new tools for public health and public safety officials and communities across the Nation. To parents, loved ones, community leaders, and those affected by Xylazine use: I want you to know that help is on the way.” - Dr. Rahul Gupta, ONDCP

Lawmakers in the Biden-Harris Administration are working quickly to try to get Xylazine and its usage of it outside of veterinary practices under control. They must work quickly, however, as the amount of Xylazine found in drug samples taken from US streets is quickly increasing. A particular hotspot in this issue is Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where around 90% of samples collected contained either Xylazine or Fentanyl, according to a division of the city’s health department, Substance Use Philly. Xylazine has been around since the early 2000’s, with reports mostly dating back to 2006 of overdose deaths. While lawmakers and government officials are doing their part, the best way to keep communities safe is to warn about the dangers of Xylazine. Close attention should be paid to any pill or drug that is not purchased at a pharmacy, as anything can be cut with Fentanyl, another deadly drug, or Xylazine. Users report necrosis, or death of skin on the body, which gives Xylazine the name of “the zombie drug”. It has typical depressant effects, like alcohol and heroin, which depress and reduce function of the nervous system. Although this drug has been around for a while, we should pay special attention to any unregulated substances that enter our bodies, and especially if their effects have a possibility of being irreversible.


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