The Biden administration is declaring xylazine-laced fentanyl an official emerging drug threat to the nation, the first time any drug has been given that label.
Xylazine, also known as “tranq,” is an easily accessible veterinary drug approved for use in animals as a sedative and pain reliever. But it is also being used by drug dealers as a low-cost cutting agent in drugs like fentanyl as a way to extend a user’s high.
“I’m troubled about what I’ve learned about the devastating impact of the fentanyl xylazine combination, which is growing in youth across the nation,” said Rahul Gupta, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).
The agency is going to prioritize specific action areas, including increasing testing capacity.
“Testing for xylazine is uneven across the United States, which makes it hard to get the national picture. Many communities are not even aware of this threat in their backyard,” Gupta said during a call with reporters.
The administration will also work to disrupt the supply chains of the drug, as well as how best to regulate it.
Bipartisan members of Congress in both chambers introduced legislation that would list xylazine as a Schedule III controlled substance.
Gupta said the administration was still considering whether to schedule xylazine itself or the broader class of similar substances that could be used as a way to adulterate fentanyl.
Veterinarians legitimately use drug products containing xylazine to sedate large animals such as horses and deer, but it is not safe for use in people and may cause serious and life-threatening side effects.
Among the side effects of tranq are ulcers that crop up on various parts of the body, which sometimes lead to the loss of fingers or limbs. Xylazine is not an opioid, so the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone does not work on it.
A 2018 law gives the administration the authority to make the threat declaration, which is meant to help increase awareness and spur treatments.
The declaration by itself doesn’t come with an increase in funding, but in a call with reporters, Gupta called on Congress to pass the White House’s budget request, which includes money appropriated for combating emerging drug threats.
“We need support from Congress for this,” Gupta said.