US: Dealers mix horse tranquilizer into street drugs

A common antidote won’t work with Xylazine

A drug meant to tranquilize horses has been kicking up the danger for illegal drug users. A veterinary drug called Xylazine is mixed with drugs like Fentanyl—and the antidote that could save a user from an opioid overdose will not work with Xylazine.

Veterinarians give Xylazine to horses for pain or to sedate them for surgery. It’s not approved for people but some people, namely drug dealers, add it to other drugs like heroin and fentanyl to stretch the supply they can sell and maybe offer a different sensation for the drug user.

The Drug Enforcement Administration is reporting more Xylazine cases but mainly in the Northeast.

Pima County Medical Examiner Doctor Greg Hess says most of Pima County’s drug deaths are from Fentanyl. He has not been seeing Xylazine deaths. He says the county does not usually test for Xylazine but so far he has not seen it even in more elaborate tests that would pick it up.

Narcan, known generically as Naloxone can save users from opioid overdoses if given in time but Naloxone does nothing to save a Xylazine user because Xylazine is not an opioid.

Doctor Hess says in theory someone could try to use Naloxone to counteract Fentanyl and the Xylozine could kill the user anyway.

“That’s probably more of a hypothetical problem but you’re right if you were treating somebody that was overdosing on Fentanyl with Narcan, which Fentanyl should respond to Narcan if given early enough, but there was something else on board that was at high enough level that was not responding to naloxone and and yes, that could potentially be a problem.”

Doctor Steve Dudley directs the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center. He says there’s no antidote to a lot of dangerous drugs but hospital staff will do what it can even if it’s unknown what someone has taken.

“You know, somebody comes through and gets in the hospital, they’re unconscious, and unresponsive, we don’t know. And so our goal is to make sure we keep them alive long enough that their body can burn off whatever they’ve been exposed to; and this is no different.”

Doctor Dudley also says Xylazine has not really hit Arizona. Captain John Leavitt of the Counter Narcotics Alliance thinks he knows why—but it’s not good news—it’s because dealers in Tucson have so much supply they generally don’t add things to stretch how much they can sell.

Leavitt says, “Over half the drugs that come into the United States come through the Tucson sector, the Border Patrol, so you know, 51% over the last two decades, so we get those drugs before they’re stepped down or cut or whatever the colloquial term is that you want to use. We get them when they’re in their purest form here in Tucson, and so that’s why these compounds don’t appear very often.”

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