May 3, 2023 - News

Animal tranquilizer Xylazine adds to drug threat level in Arkansas

Illustration of a syringe in an evidence bag.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Xylazine, an animal tranquilizer recently called an "emerging threat" in the U.S., has made its way to Arkansas, state drug director Thomas Fisher told Axios.

How it works: Xylazine is a central nervous system depressant that can cause drowsiness, amnesia and slow breathing, bringing heart rates and blood pressure to dangerously low levels.

  • Repeated xylazine use is also associated with skin ulcers, abscesses and related complications.
  • Taking opioids or drinking alcohol in combination with xylazine increases the risk of life-threatening overdose, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

By the numbers: The state crime lab found 46 instances of xylazine in drugs seized by law enforcement in Arkansas in 2022, though Fisher noted the data is provisional.

Why it matters: The emerging threat of xylazine adds to an existing drug overdose problem driven partially by people unknowingly using fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid.

Threat level: While community activists and government officials have pushed for more accessible naloxone to help combat the opioid overdose crisis, the antidote doesn't work to reverse the impacts of xylazine, which isn't an opioid.

The big picture: "There's no quality control in the illegal drug market," Fisher said.

  • No one really knows what they're getting when they buy illicit drugs, rendering none safe, he added.

Between the lines: The state has no evidence of people intentionally purchasing xylazine for misuse. Instead, it's apparently laced in other drugs because illicit manufacturers are likely mixing the inexpensive drug with other substances to make more money, Fisher said.

What's next: He expects more precise testing to help inform law enforcement and the public. He noted other synthetically manufactured drugs that can vary chemically are often combined with other drugs.

Go deeper: Xylazine is not an illegal controlled substance. Legislation introduced late last month would change that.


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