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Animal tranquilizer drug xylazine poses new threat to local opioid crisis


A potentially deadly drug is creeping into Ontario’s street drug supply and fueling overdoses.

Xylazine, also known as "tranq,” is an animal tranquillizer used in veterinary medicine that is not approved for use in humans.

The drug can be cut with opioids such as fentanyl.

“You can't tell by the physical appearance, what's in that substance, and that's very dangerous,” said Patrick Kolowicz, director for mental health addictions at Hotel Dieu Grace Healthcare.

The drug causes excessive respiratory depression. Another serious symptom is skin ulcers that spread out from the injection site. The skin wounds can be so severe that the infected body part may need amputation if left untreated.

A chart depicting xylazine detection in opioid overdose deaths. (Source: Office of the Chief Coroner)In a recent local opioid alert, a memo from Ontario health officials warns of a recent increase in the presence of xylazine and benzodiazepines in the province’s unregulated drug supply.

“The drug supply broadly is very volatile. It evolves rapidly and there are new things are trending up all the time,” said Dr. Sarah Konefal, analyst at the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA).

Data from Ontario’s Office of the Chief Coroner shows there were nearly no deaths connected to xylazine prior to 2020. A dramatic jump in 2021 and 2022 saw 128 drug-related deaths had detected xylazine over the two-year period. Two of those deaths were reported in Windsor-Essex, and four in Chatham-Kent.

Xylazine has no approved antidote. Since it’s not an opioid, naloxone does not reverse its effects.

A chart depicting xylazine detection in opioid overdose deaths. (Source: Office of the Chief Coroner)

Staff at Pozitive Pathways Community Services have had to adjust their approach in dealing with overdoses.

“With a normal opiate overdose, the naloxone is going to kick in. You might not have to do rescue breathing and chest compressions. With xylazine in our supply, you're definitely going to need that to keep the person's heart beating,” said Lacie Krzemien, harm reduction community education coordinator.

Larger cities like Toronto and Vancouver have been able to detect xylazine through drug checking services.

Windsor’s Safepoint consumption and treatment site will offer drug checking services.

“They'll be able to test it before they take it. They will know that's something they don't want to ingest,” said Krzemien. Top Stories

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