Animal Sedative Found
in U.S. Illicit Fentanyl Supply

CMS advises community on what to watch for and how to respond.

Fentanyl use is on the rise, and it’s now being mixed with xylazine, a powerful animal tranquilizer.

While fentanyl alone continues to be the cause of fatal overdoses at an alarming rate, there’s been an even greater surge in overdose deaths recently, causing experts to take a closer look at the toxicology reports. They found that a veterinary sedative called xylazine is being added to the illicit drug supply. In 2022, the DEA found xylazine in approximately 23% of fentanyl powder and 7% of fentanyl pills seized.

“We began seeing it here in Wisconsin in toxicology reports from ODs about a year ago,” says CMS Clinic Manager and Substance Abuse Counselor, Ryan Gorman. According to the Wisconsin Examiner, Milwaukee County saw at least 51 deaths involving xylazine and the synthetic opioid fentanyl last year. Before that, xylazine was virtually unheard of.

Why is Xylazine Being Added to the Drug Supply?

Research on xylazine is still emerging. “Xylazine extends the feeling of an opiate high,” explains Gorman. According to NIDA, people report that the addition of xylazine to fentanyl prolongs the euphoric effects of the opioids. While the high may last longer, Gorman does not believe all people are intentionally buying the fentanyl-xylazine mixture. CMS is on a mission to educate the public about the costly dangers of opioids mixed with the animal tranquilizer.
People report that the addition of xylazine to fentanyl extends the euphoric effects of the opioids.

Suppressed Breathing

Xylazine is a central nervous system depressant and as such depresses breathing. When combined with an opiate like fentanyl, it can stop someone’s breathing, causing an overdose.


Some people report losing consciousness after using, sometimes for hours or even as long as a day. When this happens, people can sustain injuries from falling or being unconscious in unsafe places for hours, leaving them vulnerable to being attacked or harmed.

Unsightly Wounds

Lesions similar to blisters can appear at injection sites, but also in other parts of the body like legs and arms. The wounds will grow when untreated and can become infected to a point that requires amputation.

Xylazine Can’t Be Treated with Narcan

The medication used to reverse overdoses called naloxone or Narcan doesn’t work on xylazine, as it’s not an opioid.

Xylazine Can’t Be Detected

Xylazine cannot be detected with testing strips the way fentanyl can, so people don’t know if their substances are contaminated with it.

What is CMS Doing?

“At this point, we’re trying to educate and inform the public as much as possible,” says Gorman. Because the xylazine mixture is so new, there’s little research about how it behaves in humans or how to treat those who get it into their systems. We also don’t know where it’s coming from, and how to stop it from getting into the supply.”
In addition to constant education, outreach, and support, CMS is working to change legislation to make test strips that detect xylazine available to the community. “You get those things into the hands of people who use, they’re going to make better decisions,” says Gorman. “We’ve seen this over and over again. If you give people the tools, they can make more informed decisions.”

What Can the Public Do About Xylazine?

If you witness someone experiencing a possible xylazine overdose, here’s what you can do:
Call 911 | Provide Narcan if available | Administer CPR or rescue breaths
In addition to these hands-on actions, compassion, education and understanding go a long way to help address this latest threat. “Be curious,” says Gorman. “Keep learning. Get trained on how to use Narcan. Get CPR certified. You could save a life.”
Gorman leaves us with this final thought, “If we were able to talk openly about medication, more people would access it. It wouldn’t be as shameful. Same with emerging drugs. If we could talk about these issues without being worried about being judged or even arrested, think about how things could change for those who need help.”
Gorman reminds us that those who need our help are “brothers, fathers, sons, sisters, moms, coworkers. These are people around you every single day. Just because you don’t see what’s going on doesn’t mean that it’s not happening.”

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