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The incidence of overdose deaths from fentanyl laced with xylazine has been “increasingly detected” in recent years, according to data from the CDC released Thursday.
Xylazine, a non-opioid veterinary tranquilizer, is often referred to as “tranq” and can cause skin ulcers and other wounds that could eventually lead to amputation. It’s been increasingly mixed into the illegal drug supply, and now the CDC says overdose deaths containing the substance increased by 276% from January 2019 to June 2022.
“These data show that fentanyl combined with xylazine is increasingly dangerous and deadly,” director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy Dr. Rahul Gupta said in a statement. “This is why the Biden-Harris Administration recently designated it as an emerging threat.”
In January 2019, 2.9% of fentanyl overdose deaths contained tranq. As of June 2022, 10.9% of fentanyl overdose deaths contain the substance, according to CDC data from the State Unintentional Drug Overdose Reporting System, which includes 31 states and Washington, D.C. From January 2021 to June 2022, tranq was detected in 9% of all fatal overdoses, The Hill notes, adding that an increase in testing could account for some of the increase.
Tranq can make people unconscious for hours at a time, as well as lower a person’s blood pressure and slow down heart rates, according to NBC News. It can also reportedly cause necrosis, described as the rotting of the skin, which is what can lead to amputation.
“Research has shown Xylazine is often added to illicit opioids, including fentanyl, and people report using xylazine-containing fentanyl to lengthen its euphoric effects,” the National Institute on Drug Abuse says of the drug. “Most overdose deaths linked to both xylazine and fentanyl also involved additional substances, including cocaine, heroin, benzodiazepines, alcohol, gabapentin, methadone, and prescription opioids.”
The news comes as overdose deaths in the United States have reached record levels in recent years. Last month, preliminary federal data showed 109,680 people died from overdose deaths in 2022. In 2021, the number was 109,179 — a 17% increase from 2020, and a 30% increase from the year before, according to The New York Times.
In April, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy designated xylazine an “Emerging Drug Threat” — the first such designation. With that, the administration was tasked with increasing efforts to combat the drug. At the time, Gupta warned, “Many communities are not even aware of the threat in their backyard.”
A month before that designation, the Drug Enforcement Agency warned that tranq had been detected in 48 states, The Daily Wire reported. According to DEA authorities, the majority of the fentanyl that enters the United States is trafficked by the Sinaloa and Jalisco cartels in Mexico, who primarily source the chemicals from China. Between August 2021 and August 2022, 107,735 Americans died from drug poisoning, with 66% involving synthetic opioids like fentanyl.
“Xylazine is making the deadliest drug threat our country has ever faced, fentanyl, even deadlier,” DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said in a news release.