The Silent Threat: Xylazine in the U.S. Illegal Drug Supply
In recent years, a dangerous and little-known threat has emerged within the illegal drug trade in the United States: Xylazine. Often referred to as “tranq” or “tranq dope,” this non-opioid sedative or tranquilizer is increasingly being found in the illicit drug supply and has been linked to overdose deaths. Despite being unapproved for use in humans, xylazine poses a significant danger to those who unknowingly consume it, particularly when it’s combined with opioids like fentanyl.
In this blog post, we will explore what xylazine is, its symptoms and health risks, how people are exposed to it, and the crucial steps to take in the case of an overdose involving this deadly substance.
Xylazine is a non-opioid sedative primarily used in veterinary medicine to sedate large animals. In the United States, it is not classified as a controlled substance, but it is not approved for use in humans. This makes its presence in the illegal drug supply all the more alarming.
Symptoms and Health Risks of Xylazine
When consumed by humans, xylazine can lead to a range of harmful effects, including sedation, difficulty breathing, dangerously low blood pressure, slowed heart rate, wounds that can become infected, severe withdrawal symptoms and even death. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an alert in November to raise awareness about the dangers of xylazine, emphasizing the severity of the risks associated with this substance.
How Are People Exposed to Xylazine?
Xylazine often finds its way into the illegal drug supply when it is mixed with other substances like cocaine, heroin and fentanyl. This mixing can serve various purposes, from enhancing the drug’s effects to increasing its street value by adding weight. Unfortunately, individuals who use these illegal drugs are often unaware of the presence of xylazine in their substances. Alarming statistics indicate that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has seized xylazine and fentanyl mixtures in 48 of the 50 states, and the DEA laboratory system reported that approximately 23% of fentanyl powder and 7% of fentanyl pills seized in 2022 contained xylazine. Xylazine is typically injected but can also be swallowed or sniffed.
Naloxone and the Role of First Responders
One critical concern regarding xylazine is that naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal medication, is unlikely to reverse its effects. Because xylazine is frequently used in combination with opioids, particularly fentanyl, naloxone should still be administered in the event of a suspected drug overdose. It is vital to call 911 for immediate medical attention, especially since the effects of xylazine may persist even after naloxone is administered.
Expert Insights from Dr. Chip Roberts
Dr. Chip Roberts, the Chief Medical Officer at New Season Treatment Center, emphasizes the importance of being aware of the threat of xylazine and the commitment of medical professionals at New Season to educate the public about this perilous substance. Dr. Roberts and his highly-trained medical team are uniquely positioned to treat patients who have been affected by xylazine and are dedicated to providing life-saving care.
The presence of xylazine in the illegal drug supply is a growing concern with potentially lethal consequences for individuals who inadvertently ingest it. It is essential for both the general public and healthcare professionals to be aware of the risks associated with xylazine and to take immediate action in the case of a suspected overdose, even if naloxone is administered.
The expertise and dedication of professionals like Dr. Chip Roberts and the team at New Season Treatment Center play a crucial role in addressing this silent threat and saving lives. Education and awareness are the first steps towards mitigating the dangers posed by xylazine in the illegal drug trade.
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