Horse tranquilizer has been found in Northeast Ohio street drugs, harm reduction groups say
A powerful muscle relaxant called xylazine is being mixed into street drugs in Northeast Ohio, making it harder to spot an overdose, local addiction and substance abuse organizations say.
Xylazine is a sedative that’s only authorized for veterinarian use in the U.S., according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
When someone overdoses on opioids, their lips and fingers often turn blue, signaling a lack of oxygen. But people don’t turn as blue when overdosing on the veterinary sedative, which can be deadly when combined with fentanyl, said Bethany Roebuck, executive director of the harm reduction group Thrive for Change.
“We're still figuring out the full scope of what it's looking like in our community, and what we need to do,” she said. “But I'll just say it's pretty frightening and could be a tipping point for a new kind of era of this crisis.”
The continued new introduction of drugs into the supply is making it hard for providers to respond, Roebuck said.
“I feel like we with [the opioid] crisis we have been way too late to respond on so many things, and we aren't seeing the numbers [of overdoses] decrease,” she said.
Drug dealers are likely choosing to mix xylazine with fentanyl because it extends the high, but it also can make using more deadly, because naloxone, the opioid reversal drug, doesn’t work on xylazine, said Beth Zietlow-DeJesus, with the Alcohol Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) Board of Cuyahoga County.
She said people who come upon someone overdosing should administer naloxone, which will work on the opioid, call 911 and begin rescue breathing.
The Cuyahoga County ADAHMS Board recently bought 12,500 test strips to give to people to check for xylazine, according to Zietlow-DeJesus.
Last week a van from Northern Ohio Recovery System distributed xylazine testing strips in an area where there had been a cluster of overdoses, Zietlow-DeJesus said. Other harm reduction groups including Thrive for Change, Project White Butterfly and Cleveland Umadaop have the strips and may be distributing them.
Some health care providers and community organizations also have strips that test for the sedative, Zietlow-DeJesus said.