Lawmakers move to crack down on veterinary sedative xylazine

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A bipartisan group of Congressional lawmakers moved Tuesday to further restrict xylazine, a veterinary sedative also known as tranq, in an effort to crack down on the drug's spread. Xylazine is increasingly being cut into other drugs, with the Drug Enforcement Administration saying it had found xylazine in nearly a quarter of the fentanyl powder it seized in 2022.

The Combating Illicit Xylazine Act would classify xylazine, as a Schedule III drug, putting it on par with ketamine and anabolic steroids, and also declare xylazine as an emerging drug threat. The bill would also allow the DEA to track the drug's manufacturing in an effort to cut down on it being used to cut illegal drugs.

"Drug traffickers are going to great lengths to pad their profits with dangerous drugs like tranq, and we need to empower law enforcement to crack down on its spread in our communities," said Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, one of several lawmakers who introduced the bill. "This bipartisan legislation will ensure the DEA and local law enforcement have the tools they need to get xylazine off our streets while protecting its important use as a veterinary tranquilizer."

Xylazine is a sedative and muscle relaxer used on large animals like horses, and is not approved for use in humans, Dr. Sherri Kacinko, a forensic toxicologist at NMS Labs in Pennsylvania who studies xylazine and other substances, recently told CBS News.

Xylazine can cause severe, necrotic skin ulcerations in humans and the rotting may lead to amputation, according to the DEA. Other documented toxic effects include blurred vision, disorientation, drowsiness, staggering, coma, bradycardia, respiratory depression, hypotension, miosis and hyperglycemia.

Xylazine is a central nervous system depressant, which has a sedative effect and depresses breathing, Alixe Dittmore, a training and content development coordinator with the National Harm Reduction Coalition, told CBS News. It is not an opiate, but those effects combined with an opiate can stop someone's breathing, causing an overdose. 

"Drug overdoses remain unacceptably high as cartels and traffickers continue to flood our nation with deadly and ever-changing poison," said Sen. Chuck Grassley. "We cannot successfully prevent these tragedies with one hand tied behind our back. We must keep pace with the evolving tactics of the drug trade."

While Naloxone, also known under the brand name Narcan, does not reverse the effects of xylazine, the life-saving drug can still be administered to those experiencing an overdose because any opioids cut with xylazine will still react, experts said.

Xylazine has been found mixed into fentanyl in at least 48 of 50 states. The combination threatens the health and safety of Americans, Rep. Jimmy Panetta said.

"This toxic brew of drugs makes fentanyl, which has taken thousands of lives in California and around the country each year, not just cheaper but deadlier and more addictive," Panetta said. "Although xylazine has legitimate uses in agriculture, we need to prevent it from being misused on the streets."

An import alert from the Food and Drug Administration aimed to restrict the unlawful importing of xylazine, but Claire Zagorski, a chemist, paramedic and translational scientist in Austin, Texas, told CBS News that it's unclear where xylazine that's found in the drug supply is actually coming from.

"One of the things that makes this really unique and odd is the xylazine we're seeing in the drug supply is being sourced from aboveground. It's not being cooked in labs, it's being diverted from veterinary suppliers, and the specific source of that isn't clear," she said. Chemical evidence shows that the xylazine being found is "purely made," which Zagorski said was "very uncommon for the illicit drug supply, especially at this scale."

— Kerry Breen contributed reporting.  

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