1 chart shows why you should care about the silent epidemic of ‘tranq’ street drug deaths

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  • A new report from the CDC shows that there has been a 276% increase of xylazine in opioid overdoses.

  • Xylazine, a veterinary tranquilizer, is increasingly being added to street drugs to create a euphoric effect.

  • The CDC recommends using xylazine test strips to check street drugs for contamination before use.

Xylazine, also known as “tranq” or the “zombie drug,” is exacerbating fentanyl-related opioid overdoses, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last week. The data is grim: Between January 2021 and June 2022, there was a 276 percent increase of xylazine found in fentanyl-related overdose deaths in the United States.

Xylazine is a veterinary tranquilizer approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in large animals, but is not approved for use in humans. When taken by people, xylazine can create a “euphoric, semi-conscious state,” Insider previously reported.

Xylazine is especially dangerous because while the drug naloxone can reverse an opioid overdose, there is no known drug for xylazine reversal.

“These data show that fentanyl combined with xylazine is increasingly dangerous and deadly,” President Biden’s drug policy adviser, Dr. Rahul Gupta, said in a White House news release on the new data June 29. In April, the White House declared fentanyl in combination with xylazine an emerging threat to the United States.

This graph shows how xylazine is making overdose deaths worse

The graph shows xylazine's increase in fentanyl-related overdose deaths from 2.9% in January 2019 to 10.9% in June 2022—a 276% increase.

The graph shows the increase of xylazine in fentanyl-related overdose deaths from 2.9% in January 2019 to 10.9% in June 2022, an increase of 276%.

Number and percentage of drug overdose deaths involving illegally manufactured fentanyl by month and xylazine detection or involvement from January 2019 through June 2022CDC MMWR

In 2022, drug overdose deaths nationwide reached a new record of 107,081, according to the CDC report. Over 68% of these deaths involved synthetic opioids, mainly fentanyl. Increasing xylazine is making that number worse.

This graph from the CDC report shows that in January 2019, xylazine was detected in only 2.9 percent of fentanyl-related opioid overdoses. As of June 2022, xylazine was detected in approximately 1 in 10 (10.9%) fentanyl-related opioid overdoses. Xylazine not only occurs together with fentanyl, but is increasingly linked to death as well. Xylazine was listed as the cause of death in 12 cases in January 2019, but by June 2022 it was listed as the cause of death in 188 cases, an increase of 1,467%.

The highest cases of xylazine-fentanyl overdose occurred in the Northeast, particularly in Maryland, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.

Everyone should care that peace of mind is on the rise

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, xylazine is thought to slow breathing and heart rate and reduce blood pressure to dangerously low levels, leading to coma or even death. Chronic use is thought to lead to severe withdrawal symptoms and skin ulceration.

Although xylazine is most commonly found in opioids, it can also be added to other drugs such as cocaine and counterfeit prescriptions. Public health officials warn that any drug not bought directly at the pharmacy could contain xylazine or fentanyl.

The CDC recommends carrying naloxone with you, especially if you or someone you know uses opioids. Lifesaving opioid reversal medication should be used at any time of a suspected overdose and will not harm someone even if the person is found not to be experiencing an overdose.

The CDC report pointed out that recently approved xylazine tests are also key to reducing deaths. Xylazine test strips are “the exact same concept as fentanyl test strips,” Alex Krotulski, a forensic toxicologist, told STAT.

Test strips work by mixing a sample of the drug with water and then dipping the test strip for several seconds to see if xylazine is detected.

Read the original Insider article

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