LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — The Southern Nevada Health District is warning about an animal tranquilizer that is showing up more and more in the illicit drug supply. It's called xylazine and officials said it's especially dangerous when it's combined with opioids like fentanyl.
Researchers state that xylazine can cause drowsiness, amnesia, blood sugar abnormalities, slowed breathing, slowed heartbeat, apnea, low blood pressure, and death. Federal authorities said people who inject these drug mixtures can also develop severe wounds including skin ulcers, abscesses, and necrosis, or rotting human tissue, that could lead to amputations.
Health officials said that while naloxone, Narcan, can help with fentanyl overdoses, it won't reverse the effects of xylazine since xylazine is not an opioid.
In Nevada, the health district has only registered one overdose death involving both xylazine and fentanyl and that was back in 2020. However, they said they're expanding their surveillance capabilities to detect new substances more quickly and work with partners to respond appropriately.
The district does provide fentanyl test strips to allow people to test drugs for traces of fentanyl, which can be deadly even in small amounts. Those strips can be picked up without a prescription at their location at 280 South Decatur Boulevard or at a distribution location, which can be found here.
On a national level, the issue has increasingly gotten worse over the last three years.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in January 2019, xylazine was found in just under 3% of fentanyl deaths in the United States. By June 2022, that number had jumped to nearly 11% of fentanyl deaths.
"There is an urgent need to determine the source of xylazine and how to reduce the illicit supply; to develop evidence-based testing and overdose response protocols; and to determine how to treat those who have become dependent on the dangerous combination," said Dr. Rahul Gupta, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
This week, the White House unveiled a plan involving several federal agencies, including the CDC and Food and Drug Administration, to expand access to testing, prevention and overdose recovery resources.
Those agencies must develop and submit an implementation report to the White House in 60 days.
Federal officials said they hope these measures will reduce xylazine-positive drug overdoses in at least three of four U.S. Census regions 15% by 2025.