Animal tranquilizer rarely found in WA's illegal fentanyl
September 21, 2023
By Grace Deng for the Washington State Standard
A powerful veterinary tranquilizer infiltrating the United States' illicit drug market is only present in a small fraction of Washington's fentanyl supply, according to a new report.
The study, released last week by drug testing laboratory Millennium Health, looks at the presence of xylazine, also known as "tranq," in about 160,000 urine drug tests across the United States. The samples were collected between April and July, during the 100 days after the White House designated fentanyl mixed with xylazine as an emerging health threat.
Xylazine was detected in 34 states, but just 2.9% of Washington samples tested positive. Across the United States, 16% of tests that came back positive for fentanyl were also positive for xylazine, the report found. Over 99% of xylazine-positive specimens also contained fentanyl.
In other parts of the country the drug was much more prevalent. For instance, in the mid-Atlantic region 40% of fentanyl-positive specimens contained xylazine and in parts of the Midwest 33%.
A map showing a geographical analysis of xylazine across the United States. It shows lower percentages across the West and Mountain regions and higher levels across the East.
A map of xylazine presence across the country. (Millennium Health)
Xylazine, a non-opioid drug commonly used on horses, is not approved for human use and can cause gruesome wounds when people inject it, sometimes even leading to amputations. The drug triggers stupor in humans that can last for hours and opioid overdose medications fail to reverse its effects.
"This is a substance no human being was meant to ingest," Millennium Health's chief clinical officer, Dr. Angela Huskey, said in a statement.
According to the report, the drug has yet to spread in western states as widely as it has along the East Coast or in the South and Midwest.
Washington also appears to have a smaller percentage of fentanyl mixed with xylazine than other western states, including California, Oregon, New Mexico and Alaska, where percentages ranged from approximately 3% to 5%. Nationwide, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Ohio had the highest xylazine positivity rates, ranging from approximately 37% to 43%.
The findings align with concerns expressed to the Standard last month by some experts and advocates who say they aren't seeing much xylazine in Washington's drug supply and are worried funding will be diverted to xylazine, when fentanyl is the deadlier and more immediate threat.
However, Millennium's report points to a 2022 warning from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration that suggests xylazine is following "the same east-to-west path as fentanyl."
"Geographical changes in xylazine use should be monitored closely," the report said.