As heroin fades from toxicology reports, and fentanyl and meth become drugs of choice, a heavy-duty horse tranquilizer is a new drug lurking at the edges of the local drug scene.
This new drug, Xylazine, has already become popular in Philadelphia, accounting for a third of the city’s drug overdose deaths, according to a report issued in February, and local caseworkers are beginning to hear clients talk about it in Lycoming County.
“Folks that are using heroin and fentanyl are transitioning to (Xylazine),” said Shea Madden, executive director of the West Branch Drug and Alcohol Abuse Commission. “I think it’s predominantly injected.”
West Branch caseworkers, who process roughly 2,000 individuals each year, have talked with multiple people who have used it, according to Madden.
A drug used by veterinarians, primarily on horses, it didn’t become popular among humans until the early 2000s in Puerto Rico. It causes heavy sedation and is known on the street as “tranq” or “sleep cut.”
In Puerto Rico, the common name for it is “zombie drug.”
Use of Xylazine in the United States has steadily increased since 2015, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, with a number of advisories being sent out to communities where cases began to rise.
“Many public health departments and poison control centers issued advisories and alerts while seizure activity have also been reported nationwide with large quantities found in Pennsylvania, Connecticut and California,” according to a February DEA report.
Still rare locally, law enforcement aren’t seeing Xylazine in drug arrests and the county Coroner Charles Kiessling Jr. has yet to find it as the result of an overdose death. However, he added that, due to high processing costs, he has only just begun to test for it.
Popular drugs in Philadelphia are likely to make their way to Lycoming County, Kiessling said. The county is home to a few drug trafficking routes, to and from Philadelphia and New York.
“Unfortunately, we’re just a suburb of Philly when it comes to this stuff,” he said. “We have enough work to do right now. We don’t need people killing themselves with horse tranquilizers.”
Drug overdose deaths are often linked to a mixture of many different drugs, according to Kiessling. In the past year the most common drugs have been fentanyl, cocaine, methamphetamine Gabapentin, Oxycodone, Tramadol, Buprenorphine, and Marijuana in combination with other prescription medications.
When the cause of death can’t be traced to any of those, Kiessling asks for Xylazine testing. He said he has one case pending for Xylazine.
“It’s certainly helpful for the community to be aware of it,” Kiessling said.
A 2016 report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, showed that out of Lycoming and Clinton counties’ roughly 133,000 residents ages 12 and over, nearly 10,000 individuals reported a substance abuse disorder.
Drug overdoses have continued to increase since 2016.