Animal tranquilizer mixed with opioids is an emerging threat to the U.S.

For the first time in U.S. history, the White House has declared a drug to be an emerging threat to the United States. The DEA says xylazine, which is an animal tranquilizer is being used with the synthetic opioid fentanyl, and the results are deadly.

The drug xylazine has now been found in all 50 states, and it’s linked to an increasing number of overdose deaths, some right here in Jacksonville.

The White House calls it an emerging threat to the country, the veterinary tranquilizer xylazine that’s being mixed with the powerful opioid fentanyl. Drug experts say xylazine makes the high from fentanyl last longer, and it’s being detected in more and more overdose deaths.

In the year 2020, 800 deaths were associated with xylazine. By 2121, that number jumped to 3,000. The drug causes breathing and heart rates to slow down, sometimes to deadly levels.

“Yes we’ve definitely seen some local overdoses,” Susan Pitman, Director of Drug Free Duval said.

Pitman says her team started hearing about xylazine overdoses roughly eight months ago in North Florida, saying the tranquilizer is being mixed in with fentanyl without the user knowing it.

“According to the DEA, 23% of the powdered fentanyl supply contains xylazine--and about 7% of the pills. So even a person who might be a casual user doesn’t have any awareness. They might not even be aware that there’s fentanyl, they think they’re buying heroin, or they think they’re buying, you know, an adderall or something on Snapchat. And in fact, they’re getting a pill that has both fentanyl and now xylazine,” Pitman said.

Pitman says the drug naloxone, which was recently approved for over-the-counter sale in the United States, doesn’t have the same effect on a person overdosing from xylazine. She’s hoping the White House declaring xylazine as a deadly and dangerous drug will help with awareness and save someone’s life.

“When we finally get the spotlight shined by our highest elected officials, and when the government begins to really take this stuff, seriously, it changes the game. It changes the game with funding and all that stuff. But it also changes the game because look what you’re doing today, look what you’re talking about with us,” Pitman said.

The director of the Drug Policy Office, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, says his office is requesting $11 million as part of its budget to develop a strategy to tackle the drug’s spread. One thing that’s being discussed is trying to disrupt the drugs supply, and looking into whether Congress should classify it as a controlled substance.

About the Author:

Tarik anchors the 4, 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. weekday newscasts and reports with the I-TEAM.