The Pennsylvania Department of Health today announced it has taken formal action to limit access to xylazine, temporarily scheduling it as a controlled substance. Commonly known as “tranq,” xylazine is a powerful sedative approved for veterinary use but one that is increasingly found in Pennsylvania’s illicit drug supply. The Department’s scheduling preserves the legitimate use of the drug by veterinarians and farmers on livestock and other animals.
Acting Secretary of Health Dr. Debra Bogen submitted notice to temporarily add xylazine to the list of schedule III drugs under Pennsylvania’s Controlled Substance, Drug, Device, and Cosmetic Act. The notice will be published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin on Saturday, June 3, 2023, when the action takes effect.
“This action will protect veterinarians and other legitimate users and manufacturers of xylazine, which is an important medication for animal sedation, while also creating penalties for people who add illicit xylazine to the drug supply that is harming people in our communities,” said Dr. Bogen. “Our focus remains on developing strategies that help connect people with substance use disorder to treatment and other resources.”
Additionally, making xylazine a controlled substance will assist law enforcement agencies in bringing people to justice who illegally add xylazine to the illicit drug supply and harm others.
“District attorneys across Pennsylvania are grateful that this illicit dangerous drug, xylazine, is being scheduled as a controlled substance,” said Greg Rowe, with the Pennsylvania District Attorneys’ Association. “There is no legitimate human purpose for its use. Scheduling xylazine will allow law enforcement and prosecutors to investigate and hold drug traffickers seeking to sell it in our communities, often to unsuspecting users, accountable.”
People often are exposed to xylazine, knowingly or unknowingly, in combination with other drugs, particularly illicit fentanyl. Xylazine is a growing issue across Pennsylvania. In 2017, xylazine contributed to 90 overdose deaths, but in 2021, it contributed to 575 overdose deaths across 30 counties – an increase of over 600 percent in just 5 years. It’s also becoming increasingly prevalent in Philadelphia – in 2021, the City of Philadelphia reported that 90 percent of street opioid samples tested contained xylazine.
Last year, the FDA warned that xylazine is not safe for use in humans. Xylazine use may result in skin ulcers and abscesses that drain pus, have decaying tissue and bacterial infections, and which can lead to amputation.
Even though xylazine is not an opioid, an opioid-reversal medication like naloxone should still be administered in instances where signs of an overdose are present, because xylazine is most often mixed with an opioid, like fentanyl. If xylazine was involved, the person may still appear sedated after their breathing has returned.