As a dangerous new additive found in fentanyl and other street drugs surges from coast to coast, health officials are scrambling to track it, Stateline reports. Xylazine, a large-animal tranquilizer not approved for human use, started showing up in the drug supply in 2019, but didn’t take off until the coronavirus pandemic began in 2020. Also known as tranq, xylazine can give users horrific skin lesions that can result in amputations. It also can cause hourslong blackouts, putting users at risk of theft, rape and exposure to extreme weather. Local health officials in nearly every state are rushing to keep tabs on where xylazine is showing up and in what quantities. They are trying to alert drug users to avoid the toxic additive and educate health professionals and first responders about its devastating effects.
In the past two years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published three field reports tracking the spread of xylazine. So far, there’s no national plan for how to test for the drug and protect drug users. Bnd because the tranquilizer has been approved only for cows, horses and other large animals, medical researchers know very little about its effects on humans and have not identified antidotes. Lacking federal guidance, Boston, New York City, North Carolina and Rhode Island have developed innovative methods for rapidly testing illicit drug samples, followed by localized messaging to drug users and medical providers about the dangers of xylazine. Philadelphia’s health department published an advisory outlining a protocol for xylazine withdrawal management. Maryland has a pilot project for staffing harm reduction centers with medical professionals who can treat the wounds the drug is causing. Epidemiologists at Brandeis University near Boston are working with state and local health officials and law enforcement to collect samples of the drug supply, test them quickly and report back to the drug-using community on the prevalence of xylazine.