The potentially deadly animal tranquilizer, xylazine, is increasingly found in heroin, fentanyl, and other illicit drugs, including cocaine and methamphetamine.
The problem is so severe the FDA has alerted healthcare workers to watch for patients who may have been exposed to the drug.
The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that overdose deaths involving xylazine jumped from 2% to 26% in Pennsylvania between 2015 and 2020 – and are at 10% in Connecticut as of 2020. The hardest hit region is the Northeast, but the problem is spreading westward.
It’s believed people are adding xylazine to their drug of choice, thinking it will extend euphoric effects.
Known by its street name “tranq,” xylazine often produces extreme drops in blood pressure, slow breathing, slow heart rate, drowsiness, and amnesia.
Here is an excerpt from the FDA statement:
“Xylazine is FDA-approved for use in animals as a sedative and pain reliever. Xylazine is not safe for use in humans and may result in serious and life-threatening side effects that appear to be similar to those commonly associated with opioid use, making it difficult to distinguish opioid overdoses from xylazine exposure. However, we do not know if side effects from xylazine exposure can be reversed by naloxone. Since we do not know if reversal agents regularly used in veterinary medicine (e.g., yohimbine hydrochloride, tolazoline hydrochloride) are safe or effective in humans, they should not be used.
Routine toxicology screens do not detect xylazine, and additional analytical techniques are required to detect xylazine when it might be involved in illicit drug overdoses, particularly when there are other signs or symptoms of xylazine exposure.
Health care professionals should continue to administer naloxone for opioid overdoses and consider xylazine exposure if patients are not responding to naloxone or when there are signs or symptoms of xylazine exposure (e.g., severe, necrotic skin ulcerations). Health care professionals should provide appropriate supportive measures to patients who do not respond to naloxone.”[i]
The FDA is asking healthcare workers to report any adverse events they encounter to the FDA’s MedWatch Adverse Event Reporting program.
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