Congress eyes making "zombie drug" xylazine a controlled substance
Congress is moving to designate an animal tranquilizer that's infiltrating the illegal drug trade as a controlled substance, to better allow authorities to track it and prosecute traffickers.
Driving the news: Bipartisan legislation introduced Tuesday by Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) reflects the growing alarm over the proliferation of xylazine, a sedative known as "tranq" or "zombie drug" that's often mixed with fentanyl, resists common overdose reversal treatments like naloxone and causes skin-rotting wounds.
- In a Monday letter to clinicians, SAMHSA wrote that xylazine is an emerging public health threat and noted that routine toxicology tests do not test for the substance.
- Last week, the Drug Enforcement Administration warned about the increased risk of xylazine-fentanyl mixtures, and DEA administrator Anne Milgram called xylazine "the deadliest drug threat our country has ever faced."
- At the end of February, the FDA announced new restrictions on the import of xylazine to ensure it's not diverted for illegal use.
- Cortez Masto told Axios that conversations about scheduling xylazine began around January and included the DEA, veterinarians and cattle ranchers.
Between the lines: The legislation in Congress comes as state and federal lawmakers are pressing for more aggressive punishment for fentanyl possession and dealing, as the opioid and its derivatives continue to drive a worsening addiction crisis.
- The bill would make xylazine a Class III controlled substance — the same category as ketamine, testosterone and buprenorphine.
- While the DEA and FDA could choose to list xylazine themselves, the process could take longer than doing it legislatively, per a February Congressional Research Service report.
Yes, but: Addressing the opioid epidemic by banning drugs people use has not been popular among some advocacy organizations.
- In 2021, more than 100 groups urged Congress not to permanently schedule fentanyl-related substances and increase enforcement because "there is simply no evidence" that doing so would reduce the illicit drug supply or overdose rates.
- While making drugs illegal increases their prices and reduces availability, the effort can also discourage patients with opioid use disorder from seeking help, according to a March Rand report examining the U.S. response to the crisis.
What they're saying: "We need an all-of-the-above approach," Cortez Masto told Axios, that gives law enforcement more tools to go after trafficking and still helps those with substance use disorder.