A life-threatening drug trend is developing across America, a dangerous phenomenon of addicts using fentanyl-laced animal tranquilizers as recreational, mind-altering drugs. This hybrid drug mixture is causing overdoses that do not respond to Narcan, the emergency-use opioid overdose reversal medication. To address the issue, the White House recently released a report identifying fentanyl-laced xylazine as an emerging threat to public health and safety. The designation green lights law enforcement agencies across the U.S. to step up their response measures, including heightened efforts in cracking down on how and where drug criminals get xylazine to mix it with illicit fentanyl.
Xylazine Receives ‘Emerging Drug Threat’ Designation for the First Time in History
On April 12th, 2023, the White House announced that fentanyl-adulterated xylazine is an emerging threat to the United States and the American people. It’s not common that the White House puts out a notice like this, so when this does happen, it means a new drug crisis is developing across the nation that could affect millions of Americans.1
Xylazine is a non-opioid tranquilizer approved by the Food and Drug Administration for veterinary use in primarily large animals, but not for human use. The drug has been around for a long time, is relatively cheap, and is mostly unregulated and easy to obtain. It has caught the attention of drug dealers because, when mixed with fentanyl, xylazine has the effect of prolonging a fentanyl high.
Dr. Rahul Gupta, Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), compiled and put forth reports from across the nation showing that fentanyl-laced xylazine was causing harm, addiction, and overdose deaths. Dr. Gupta put out a statement highlighting why he decided to classify the drug as an emerging threat. “As a physician, I am deeply troubled about the devastating impact of the fentanyl-xylazine combination,” he said. “By declaring xylazine combined with fentanyl as an emerging threat, we are being proactive in our approach to saving lives and creating new tools for public health and public safety officials and communities across the nation. To parents, loved ones, community leaders, and those affected by xylazine use: I want you to know that help is on the way.” Fentanyl-tainted xylazine meets all the criteria for an emerging drug threat, e.g., a widespread geographic presence of the drug plus an increasingly dire impact of the drug (the impact being the rapidly increasing number of fatal overdoses caused by it).
When making the designation, Dr. Gupta referred to a Drug Enforcement Administration report that found the following:2 In recent years, forensic laboratory identifications and toxicology reports of xylazine rose in all four U.S. census regions, most notably in the South (193%) and in the West (112%). That means the prevalence of the drug has risen alarmingly in recent years.
Between 2020 and 2021, xylazine-positive overdose deaths increased significantly. According to the data, they surged by 1,127% in the South, 750% in the West, more than 500% in the Midwest, and more than 100% in the Northeast, suggesting the drug mixture poses a serious risk to the health and well-being of Americans.
These two factors – the broad geographic distribution of the drug across the Union coupled with the rapid increase in adverse health effects caused by the drug in the form of fatal overdoses – meet the Emerging Threats Criteria used by the federal government to judge when the use of a mind-altering substance should be considered as an emerging threat to the nation.
According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), another reason for publishing the designation is the critical fact that fentanyl-laced xylazine causes overdoses so powerful that the administration of naloxone will not necessarily revive the individual experiencing the overdose. That puts addicts at even greater risk, as naloxone has been used to save tens of thousands of lives in recent years.
What Happens Next?
The ONDCP designation is just the first step. Now that fentanyl-laced xylazine has been labeled an emerging drug threat; the White House will put forth executive action requiring a whole-of-government response to the emerging trend.
Such actions will include:
- Evidence-based prevention tactics and treatment
- Educational campaigns to inform the public about the drug
- Law enforcement crackdowns on the supply and trafficking of the drug
Scientific campaigns will work on xylazine testing to understand how the drug affects the human body. Other efforts will focus on treatment and supportive care protocols for people who are using the drug. The White House will also organize the implementation of comprehensive data systems to track drug trafficking, including law enforcement strategies to reduce the illicit supply of xylazine. Finally, there are plans for rapid research to understand the interactions between xylazine and fentanyl. Scientists hope to use this research to innovate an effective xylazine/fentanyl overdose reversal medication.
What Families Must Do
Efforts by federal government administration officials, state and local agencies, and public health and law enforcement institutions will make a big difference in curbing the worst of the emerging fentanyl-laced xylazine drug trend. However, the drug hybrid still harms thousands of addicts and causes hundreds of deaths. And this is occurring every day. Given that it is extremely difficult to revive someone from the overdoses caused by these drugs, there is no second chance for an addict who experiments with this drug. And they cannot wait weeks, months, or years for the government response to curb the spread of fentanyl-tainted xylazine.
If you know someone addicted to drugs, please do everything you can to get them help. It is the responsibility of the family members of addicts to help their loved ones enter treatment and get off drugs as soon as possible. Please don’t wait until it is too late. Find help for your loved one today.