Governor Signs Bill into Law Permanently Classifying Xylazine as Schedule III Drug

Governor Josh Shapiro took further action to limit access to illicit xylazine, the powerful animal tranquilizer commonly known as “tranq,” by signing House Bill 1661 into law. The legislation officially classifies the sedative – which is not approved for use in humans but is increasingly found in Pennsylvania’s street drug supply – as a Schedule III Drug under the Controlled Substances Act.

 Earlier this month, the Pennsylvania House and Senate overwhelmingly approved HB1661 with bipartisan majorities, which criminalizes illicit possession of the drug but still maintains licit access for veterinarians for use on large animals.

 “By signing this bill into law today, we are sending a powerful message to drug dealers that we will not let you continue to peddle this poison in our communities,” said Governor Josh Shapiro. “This bill helps to ensure xylazine isn’t diverted from legitimate sources to drug dealers, and still allows for important veterinary use on animals. While we hold drug dealers accountable, my Administration will continue to pursue a multidisciplinary approach to the opioid epidemic – investing in law enforcement, treatment, and prevention. We will continue to work with harm reduction professionals to expand access to treatment and recovery services across the Commonwealth.”

 The bill passed both the House and Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support, led by prime sponsor Representative Carl Walker Metzgar (R-69) with an amendment from Senator Elder Vogel, Jr. (R-47).

“The driver behind this legislation stemmed from Somerset County being the location for one of the first cases involving recreational xylazine usage,” said Representative Carl Metzgar. “The person used it on a baby changing station at a convenience store. Illicit xylazine usage is a serious public health concern, not only to the user but also innocent bystanders.”

Scheduling a drug requires manufacturers and distributors to not only verify that a practitioner, like a veterinarian, is licensed but that they are also authorized to receive a controlled substance. Additionally, this action allows for more checks in an ordering system, to ensure the proper address for delivery and receipt of a controlled substance, often requiring the practitioner themselves to sign for the product. Scheduling further requires practitioners to take steps to minimize theft and diversion, including accurate recordkeeping, limiting staff access to the product, and ensuring it’s stored in a secure location.

“Xylazine is a dangerous sedative that often contributes to overdose deaths,” said Colonel Christopher Paris, Commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police. “Making unlicensed possession of this drug illegal and allowing law enforcement to get it off our streets will make our communities safer for everyone.”

People exposed to xylazine often knowingly or unknowingly use it in combination with other drugs, particularly illicit fentanyl; the medication is used to lengthen the opioid’s euphoric effects.

Xylazine is a growing threat to communities across the Commonwealth. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, in 2022, xylazine contributed to 760 overdose deaths, a 31.9% increase from 2021 at 575 fatal overdoses. In 2023, preliminary numbers show xylazine contributed to 1,135 overdose deaths across 51 counties – a 22-fold increase in just five years from 2018 at 51 overdose deaths.