AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The Drug Enforcement Administration warned Texans of a drug emerging on the illicit market it said could be even more dangerous than fentanyl.
Xylazine is a veterinary tranquilizer used to sedate large animals like horses. State and federal authorities say it is increasingly common to find in other drugs and, when combined with an opioid or fentanyl overdose, increases the chance of death.
“It has very, very strong sedative effects. So it can really depress someone’s heart rate, depress their breathing, you know, knock them out,” Chris Van Deusen with the Texas Department of State Health Services said. “One issue that we have seen with xylazine is it is not an opioid, so it does not respond to treatment with Narcan or Naloxone, which is, of course, that first thing that a provider might try to reverse the effects of an opioid opioid dose.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer referred to it as a “zombie drug” because of the necrotizing ulcers it can leave after injection.
How concerned should the average Texan be, however? The Drug Enforcement Agency can’t pinpoint exactly how prevalent it is in Texas.
“The investigation is still continuing. So we’re not going to be able to release certain details on that. We’re just not really sure exactly how prevalent xylazine is in Central Texas,” DEA Special Agent Tyson Hodges said. “As far as specifics as to the quantities and how it’s been commingled or how it’s been mixed with the other controlled substances, we’re just not really going to be able to be in a position where we can give me any information.”
Official data sources appear to report conflicting information about the prevalence of the drug in communities.
DEA reports the South saw 1,423 Xylazine-positive overdose deaths in 2021. that’s a 1,127% increase over 2020. Meanwhile, Texas DSHS reports only “at least four deaths.”
KXAN asked whether the DEA could provide a general estimate of deaths in Texas.
“I don’t know if we can actually, honestly, answer that question for you. I mean, we are seeing it. We know it’s here. And we’re trying to address it,” Hodges said.
The DEA is pushing the Federal Drug Administration to designate xylazine as a controlled substance. It is currently legal due to its medical use in livestock. Controlling it would give DEA more funding and enforcement power.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is also pushing for more funding to SAMSA, the Substance Use and Mental Health Services Administration.
“What we’ve learned is when a new drug rears its ugly head, if you don’t nip it in the bud, it gets its tentacles deep in our society and it takes years, sometimes decades, to go away,” Sen. Schumer said. “We need to fight through [DEA] diversion teams and we need to fund through SAMSA.”
Until then, Hodges warns Texans they must protect themselves by only taking drugs prescribed by their doctor. Often, illicit drugs can be laced with fentanyl and xylazine, a deadly combination, even if the user does not intend to take them.
“There’s really only one way to stay safe. And that is, if your doctor or pharmacy has not prescribed this medication to you, just don’t take it. It’s as simple as that. Anytime you go online and purchase any type of pills or controlled substances, you simply don’t know what you’re going to get. You’re gambling with your life.”