REGION – A rise in the detection of the animal tranquilizer xylazine mixed in with other drugs in Worcester County has led to concern that overdoses and deaths could increase, according to Worcester County District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr.
“It’s alarming that we started seeing this,” Early said.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse linked xylazine to overdose deaths in the United States with the Northeast region suffering the largest impact.
Xylazine is a sedative not approved for human use. The drug is not an opioid, but it can compound the effects of opioids by causing drowsiness, amnesia, slow breathing, heart rate and dangerously low blood pressure.
According to Early, xylazine has been mixed with cocaine, heroin and fentanyl in Worcester County, although authorities report that xylazine has also been known to be mixed with other drugs.
Narcan, which is a nasal spray used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, is unable to reverse the effect of xylazine. However, people are advised to still administer Narcan during possible opioid overdoses because xylazine is often mixed with opioids.
“Narcan works to save lives. It will bring back the breathing and nervous system. The problem with xylazine is it is not an opioid, and Narcan has no effect on it,” Early said.
In order to combat the increase in the detection of xylazine, Early said his office is “getting the word out” to the public and informing its opioid task force.
Early said he spoke with Rep. James O’Day (D-West Boylston), Norfolk County District Attorney Michael Morrissey and Executive Director of Massachusetts District Attorney Association Tara Maguire to see if legislation could be introduced to make xylazine a controlled substance.
Local police departments have not seen xylazine
According to Early, the drug has most commonly been detected in Worcester, but Worcester County police officers have been on high alert for the drug.
“To my knowledge I don’t think we have come across this much here in Shrewsbury,” said Shrewsbury Lt. Nick Perna.
Westborough Police Department Lt. Michael Daniels said his department has detected an overall increase in drugs, but he noted that detecting xylazine would be challenging unless a fatal overdose occurs.
Although Westborough police have not detected xylazine, in order to combat the problem, Westborough officers are continuing their drug detection training, and they are connecting with addiction recovery services.
He added that Westborough Police have a full-time clinician who provides access for the department to a network of drug addiction support services.