SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – A powerful veterinary drug is being mixed with heroin and fentanyl to extend the effects of drugs and increase street value by adding weight. The 22News I-Team discovered how this drug is being tracked and the devastating health problems it causes.
The street name for this drug is ‘tranq,’ but the real name is Xylazine. Xylazine is horse tranquillizer that is infiltrating street drugs in our area and it’s having alarming effects on users and compounding the opioid crisis.
This July, the Massachusetts Drug Supply Data Stream issued a public health alert about the rising presence of Xylazine in street drugs, largely opioids like heroin and fentanyl. The DEA has concluded that Xylazine is a public health threat and it’s presence in street drugs has increased 61 percent in the Northeast in just one year.
Local organizations like Tapestry have harm reduction programs for users, and are trying to get the word out to save people’s lives.
“With Xylazine being cut in, Narcan isn’t effective. It’s not an opiate so it doesn’t respond the same. That’s a big issue. A big reason for us to get the word out is because it changes overdose response,” said Jamie Davis, Assistant Director of Rural Harm Reduction Operations at Tapestry.
According to the DEA, Xylazine is a non-opioid sedative only authorized in the U.S. for veterinary use; however because it extends the opioid high and increases street value by adding weight, it is being mixed with street drugs.
According to the DEA, another reason Xylazine is cropping up in the drugs supply is because it’s not too hard to get. Xylazine is available to purchase on the internet in liquid or powder form, often with no professional requirements for legitimate use.
The physical consequences are alarming. According to the CDC, it causes difficulty breathing and it’s hallmark is open wounds and decaying skin, which can lead to sepsis, amputation… even death. Nurses say often times people don’t know they have used drugs with Xylazine in it until these wounds appear.
Nurse Katy Robbins helps treat wounds and distributes wound care kits, “They come to us with a wound and we’re like, ‘This looks like it may be the result of adulterant, a cut in the supply called Xylazine. Have you ever heard of that?’ And most people say no.”
Tapestry is tracking the presence of Xylazine in street drugs locally, all along the I-91 corridor and reports its findings to the state.
“The dope that we have around here is… ranges from like three or four actual ingredients to like ten to twelve. All of the dope has fentanyl in it,” said Ivy Sabal, a Harm Reduction Counselor.
Sabal preps by cleaning a test pad of the spectrometer, which analyzed the drug trash. Sabal piles the drug in the center of the spectrometer before it is analyzed and the results come up on the computer.
Tapestry also has drug testing strips. The presence of one red line means it detects fentanyl, one bag being tested while talking with the I-Team tested positive for fentanyl. The drug content analysis and the testing strips are free for people who are interested in testing their drug trash before using, giving people a choice. Tapestry only collects drug trash, which is tested and immediately destroyed. This is done to inform people about the local drug supply in order to save lives.
“They can make a decision about what they want to put in their body,” said Davis.
This knowledge of what you’ve consumed will help the overdose response. Tapestry offers Naloxone kits, which will help with the fentanyl, and breathing masks, helpful for people who may have consumed Xylazine whose breathing is shutting down.
The Xylazine crisis is getting national attention. Less than two months ago, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy hosted a session with public health leader across the country on Xylazine; the FDA has also issued a warning about the risks associated with the human use of Xylazine.
The DEA projects that expanded use of Xylazine will continue due to it’s low cost and lower risk of detection from law enforcement because it’s not considered a controlled substance.