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Congress Gets Tranquilizer Bill To Help Mitigate Fentanyl Crisis

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators and representatives will introduce legislation to designate a veterinary tranquilizer that is worsening the fentanyl crisis as a controlled substance to help law-enforcement authorities crack down on illegal use. Xylazine, known as “tranq,” is approved only for use in animals such as horses and cattle. Dealers have been adding it to the fentanyl supply at an alarming pace, potentially to reduce its costs and lengthen the high for users, the Wall Street Journal reports. The consequences are disparate and dangerous. The overdose-reversal drug naloxone that offsets opioids including fentanyl doesn’t work on xylazine. The tranquilizer can cause severe wounds that, while treatable with proper care, can lead to people losing limbs. The Drug Enforcement Administration issued a safety alert on March 20 about xylazine. The agency said it found the tranquilizer last year in about 23% of seized fentanyl powder and 7% of fentanyl pills. The Food and Drug Administration in February said it would scrutinize xylazine shipments into the U.S. to make sure the drug was bound for legitimate users. The Senate and House bills being introduced on Tuesday would make xylazine a Schedule III drug, a category that includes ketamine, an approved anesthetic for people and animals, and anabolic steroids.


The category on the five-tiered drug schedule is for substances with moderate-to-low potential for dependence. Xylazine would be a level below fentanyl, a Schedule II drug that in its legal form is prescribed for severe pain. The legislation will make it easier for law enforcement to pursue xylazine traffickers, said Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), the bill’s lead sponsor. “Right now law enforcement has no way to crack down on this dangerous drug in our communities,” Cortez Masto said. She is sponsoring the bill with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Ia.) and others. The House bill is backed by lawmakers including Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-Ca., Calif.), Rep. Ken Buck (R-Co.) and Rep. August Pfluger (R-Tx.) Panetta said the drug is ubiquitous in agriculture and isn’t being tracked. Reporting requirements for producers and distributors will help ensure the drug is being used in animals, not humans, he said, adding, “We’re not 100% sure how much of it is in the fentanyl supply.” The legislation would require producers and distributors to tell DEA how much is purchased so the agency can look for suspicious order trends. The legislation wouldn’t require reports from end users. The American Veterinary Medical Association supports the bills and emphasized the drug’s importance for treating livestock, wildlife and zoo animals. The legislation names many potential variations of xylazine, an effort to get ahead of illicit manufacturers that may shift the formula to skirt regulations.

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