There’s a new drug on the scene that, despite efforts by the DEA and other law enforcement agencies to prevent people from using it, continues to appear in reports of opioid overdoses. Xylazine overdose deaths are reported across the United States, particularly Michigan, Ohio, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Maryland.
Xylazine is currently not a household name. It is best defined simply as a highly effective animal sedative, usually used to calm horses and other large mammals. What is of particular concern about xylazine is that when it is added to opioid drugs, users frequently overdose and Not respond to naloxone resuscitation measures. In certain urban centers, such as Philadelphia, xylazine was responsible for 25 to 35% of overdoses.
If families don’t take quick action to prevent their loved ones from taking opioids mixed with xylazine, more people will overdose on this powerful drug and more people will die from it.
What is xylazine?
Xylazine is not a controlled substance and is relatively easy to find and get. It is a veterinary drug that is used as a sedative, analgesic, and muscle relaxant. The drug acts as a sedative in large animals such as horses and cows, but has different, highly dangerous effects on humans.
Long before xylazine became a widespread threat, a group of researchers wrote an article about the drug for Forensic Science International. Her 2014 paper suggested that xylazine could become a danger among drug users in America. Quote from their material: “With humans it is [Xylazine] could cause central nervous system depression, respiratory depression, bradycardia, hypotension and even death. ”Xylazine was never intended for human consumption. It’s way too strong.
There weren’t many xylazine-related deaths in 2014, although they have been well documented and categorized. Again, according to the researchers, “43 cases of xylazine intoxication in humans have been published, of which 21 (49%) were non-fatal and 22 (51%) resulted in death. Most of the non-fatal cases required medical intervention. In recent years, xylazine has emerged as an adulterant in recreational drugs such as heroin or speedball (a mixture of cocaine and heroin). Of the 43 reported cases, 17 (40%) were associated with the use of xylazine as an adulterant for drugs of abuse. ”Xylazine makes strong drugs like opioids more dangerous and increases the likelihood of an addict overdosing.
Not only does xylazine pose the risk of overdose and death when used on its own (and when mixed with opioids), but the drug has other harmful effects as well. Xylazine use has been linked to physical deterioration, skin ulcers, and other toxic side effects.
DEA reports paint a worrying picture
Xylazine abuse has increased dramatically in the United States in recent years. The drug is so common in parts of the United States that the Drug Enforcement Administration has issued an official warning regarding the substance. They said, “Xylazine is not approved for human use. Xylazine was identified in over 3,800 NFLIS-DRUG reports from 2015 to December 2020, with each additional year increasing year-over-year, with 2020 having the largest record of 1,492 reports. Many public health departments and poison control centers issued notices and warnings while seizure activity was reported nationwide, with large amounts found in PA, CT and CA. “
While the DEA report does not list the death toll from xylazine abuse, it paints a worrying picture of the increasing cases of xylazine abuse in the United States.
A wave of overdoses in Maryland
To learn how many people die from the animal tranquilizer, individual states and counties have issued warnings and cautionary reports to their residents about the dangerous effects of xylazine abuse.
Maryland public health officials reported an alarming increase in deaths from xylazine-related overdoses. The state’s toxicological report cited, “From 2006 to 2018 there were 83 cases that were positive for xylazine. There were 56 cases in 2018 alone, a 331% increase over the previous year. Fentanyl was also detected in 80 of the xylazine positive cases, while heroin and / or morphine were positive in 52 cases and cocaine in 28 cases. ”The sudden surge in use suggests that opioid drug traffickers in Maryland realized the mixing of xylazine in their opioid supply would make their drugs more powerful and addicting. The problem is that xylazine also makes opioid drugs more deadly.
Xylazine Overdoses in Connecticut
Connecticut recently saw a surge in deaths from xylazine-related overdose. To quote a report from the CT Department of Public Health: “To increase the effectiveness of drugs, recreational drugs are often adulterated with other pharmacological agents such as xylazine, a veterinary sedative that is not intended for humans. In Connecticut, in March 2019, xylazine was identified in combination with fentanyl as a novel and emerging adulterant in fatal drug intoxications; It’s still a problem in 2021. There were 71 xylazine-related deaths in 2019 and 141 in 2020. “The report notes that there were 35 xylazine-related deaths in the first two months of 2021 alone.
Ohio and Xylazine
Only one Ohio county reported a 45% increase in overdose deaths from 2019 to 2020. In 2019, there were 423 overdose deaths in Franklin County, compared with 614 such deaths in 2020. In 2019, xylazine was identified in only 9 of those deaths, while there were 21 xylazine deaths in 2020.
Twenty-one might not be a great number. But that’s not the factor that public health analysts are concerned about. Analysts are concerned about xylazine-related deaths doubling in just one year. If Franklin County’s xylazine deaths doubled every year in the future, it wouldn’t be long before hundreds of residents died from the sedative.
Michigan overdoses are rising, in part because of xylazine
To date, there have been few xylazine-related deaths in Michigan, and all of them involved xylazine mixed with fentanyl. However, the surge in deaths was enough for the Michigan Poison Center to warn residents about the veterinary sedative. Quote the warning: “In humans, xylazine causes a significant slowdown in heart rate and blood pressure. Xylazine does many of the same effects as opioids. However, the effects set in quickly and last longer. Xylazine can be used as a substitute for an opioid such as heroin or used with an opioid for additional effects. However, xylazine does not react to naloxone to reverse its effects because it is not an opioid. ”In many ways, xylazine is even more dangerous than opioids, hence the serious concern among health officials across the country.
Help for family members and loved ones
The fact that xylazine is now being added to opioid drugs is another problem that is making the opioid epidemic more deadly. If you or someone close to your heart is using opioids mixed with xylazine, contact a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center as soon as possible. Opioids can be fatal. Xylazine increases the likelihood that they will be fatal.
Reviewed by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP, LCDC