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DEA: Xylazine ‘even deadlier’ than fentanyl

Members of the Drug Enforcement Administration raided two homes side-by-side in an assumed illegal marijuana operation on Jan. 31, 2019, in Commerce City, Colorado. (RJ Sangosti/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

(CNN) — The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration issued an alert Monday about the widespread threat of fentanyl mixed with xylazine, a veterinary tranquilizer also commonly known as “tranq” or “tranq dope.”

“Xylazine is making the deadliest drug threat our country has every faced, fentanyl, even deadlier,” DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said in the alert. “DEA has seized xylazine and fentanyl mixtures in 48 of 50 states. The DEA Laboratory System is reporting that in 2022 approximately 23% of fentanyl powder and 7% of fentanyl pills seized by the DEA contained xylazine.”

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 100,000 Americans died from drug poisonings between August 2021 and August 2022, with 66% of the deaths involving synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

Xylazine is not approved for human use. It has heavy sedative effects like an opioid, but it isn’t one, and it doesn’t respond to the opioid overdose antidote, naloxone, also known as Narcan.

Fentanyl is a fast-acting opioid, and users say that adding xylazine can extend the duration of that high, said Joseph Friedman, a researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles.

When combined, fentanyl and xylazine can make drug overdoses even deadlier, the DEA says.

Additionally, people who inject drug mixtures containing xylazine may develop severe necrotic skin wounds that may lead to tissue death and amputation.

Experts recommend giving naloxone to people who may be overdosing on a drug, and consider xylazine exposure if the person doesn’t respond to naloxone.

Xylazine is in all 50 states but is most concentrated in Philadelphia, according to Dr. Rahul Gupta, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

The White House is looking at xylazine as a potential “emerging threat,” which would trigger the development of a federal plan to address it, he said.  In the meantime, the US Food and Drug Administration says it has taken action to stop unlawful imports of xylazine.

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