The United States Drug Enforcement Administration is warning those suffering from a substance use disorder about a new type of drug being added to opioids and other substances that can put people in a coma or kill them.

Xylazine, an animal tranquilizer used in cattle, horses and sheep, is being added to narcotics like cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines, and in many cases these concoctions also include fentanyl, according to Susan Gibson, special agent in charge of the DEA in New Jersey.

“It’s added to any substance out there just for a bigger high. It’s just what these traffickers are doing to make the bottom dollar and make more money,” she said.

Deadly side effects

Gibson said the drug can be extremely dangerous, adding that it can slow down breathing, heart rate and blood pressure to dangerous levels in humans.

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“The worst side effect is coma, however it can also be responsible for disorientation, drowsiness, staggering, a lot of respiratory depressive side effects,” said Gibson.

According to Angela Conover, the director of opioid response and prevention outreach services for the Partnership for a Drug Free New Jersey, since the spring there have been a growing number of drug overdoses, especially in South Jersey, from what is being called “trank” on the street, a mixture of heroin, fentanyl and xylazine.

She said all of these drugs suppress the respiratory system of users.

“Victims are passing out and are unconscious for long periods of time, and there’s no way of testing drugs for xylazine right now,” Conover said.

High drug addict lies unconscious after injection, syringe in hand, overdose
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Naloxone doesn't work

Conover noted while naloxone can be used to revive someone who has overdosed on opioids like heroin or fentanyl, it doesn't have the same effect on other substances.

“Naloxone does not work to reverse xylazine, so a person will remain unconscious. They’ll have repressed breathing and that is what is leading to so many deaths and overdoses.”

Gibson stressed mixing xylazine with opioids, sometimes with fentanyl added in, creates a highly dangerous drug concoction.

“You have no idea what’s in them," she said.

Conover pointed out fentanyl is now being mixed with more and more street drugs, including marijuana, to give users a more intense “high,” and the same thing may happen with xylazine.

“There’s no FDA approval for human use. It’s really a strong animal tranquilizer, and unfortunately naloxone isn’t reversing it,” Conover said.

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