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Officials warning of animal tranquilizer in drug supply

Jan 30, 2023 12:45 pm
Greta Jochem is reporting for The Berkshire Eagle xylazine, an animal tranquilizer, is being increasingly found in the illegal drug supply in New England, including the Berkshires. Jessica Kelly, prevention services supervisor at Berkshire Harm Reduction, said one year ago she would find the veterinary sedative, in 1 out of 20 bags of heroin. Today, Kelly estimates it is present in one in seven bags. The drug is not an opiate and so it does not respond to opiate overdose reversal medications like naloxone. Stephen Murray, an overdose researcher at Boston Medical Center, said the drug is a major concern along the I-91 corridor. The drug was first found in the drug supply in the early 2000s in Puerto Rico, and the Massachusetts Drug Supply Stream program discovered it in the opioid supply in mid-2021. The drug is approved for veterinary use only and when taken by humans, it is extremely dangerous. Dr. Jennifer Michaels, medical director for The Brien Center said, “The scary thing about xylazine is that naloxone and Narcan don't reverse the overdose." Because it is a sedative, the drug can increase the risk for overdose by suppressing breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure, Michaels said. It can also cause severe wounds. The drug seems to be toxic to the skin and tissue underneath it. People can fall asleep or be unconscious for hours lying on a body part, like an arm, decreasing blood supply to it, Michaels said. When injected, the drug can cause pain. "I've had multiple people report it feels like worms crawling in their skin, which causes a lot of picking that causes more infection rates and abscesses, too," Kelly said. Researchers do not know as much about xylazine as they want to. As its use has spread across New England, there has not been enough time to study it. Routine drug screenings of individuals at The Brien Center do not test for xylazine, Michaels said. "We don't really know how much it has infiltrated our patients' substance supply." Read more in The Berkshire Eagle.

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