Xylazine, a drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for veterinary use, may be present in approximately a quarter of Connecticut’s drug supply according to information presented at the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services’ (DMHAS) Alcohol and Drug Policy Council (ADPC) August 15.
Robert Lawlor, a drug intelligence officer for the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas, noted during his presentation to the council that Connecticut was one of the first states where the presence of Xylazine in the drug supply was first observed and tracked.
According to Lawlor, Xylazine, which is not approved for human consumption and has not been scheduled in most states, is a contributing factor in 24.7 percent of fatal overdoses in Connecticut and has been found in 24 percent of law enforcement seizures.
That rate is on pace with the rate that Xylazine is observed at the federal level, according to Lawlor.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has issued warnings about the increased presence of Xylazine with fentanyl. Xylazine, also known as “Tranq,” is primarily used as a tranquilizer by veterinarians.
According to Lawlor, in humans the drug produces bradycardia and respiratory and central nervous system depression. It is also a vasoconstrictor and, according to Lawlor, can cause skin wounds and pressure sores when used in combination with fentanyl.
Lawlor said there is currently a “legitimate intelligence gap” about where and how Xylazine is entering the drug supply. He noted that its presence in the U.S. began in areas with high populations of people with Hispanic and Caribbean heritage, such as Connecticut.
Lawlor also noted that the Xylazine is being added to drugs domestically and not by cartels. He explained that drugs seized at the U.S. border have not been found to contain Xylazine, leading agencies to conclude it is being added to drugs inside the U.S.
According to Lawlor, users may seek out fentanyl cut with Xylazine because it is theorized to enhance and prolong the effects of fentanyl, which may reduce the frequency with which a user feels they need to redose.
Narcan, Lawlor further noted, does not work on Xylazine overdoses but Xylazine is not currently found without fentanyl in Connecticut.
Fentanyl Exposure in Children
The ADPC also heard a presentation from the Child Fatality Review Panel, which summarized findings from a recently published report.
That report, released on July 35 of this year, found there were 97 children younger than 3 years old who died from non-natural causes between January 1, 2019 and August 8, 2022.
According to Kirsten Becktel, co-chair of the panel, the report found for the first time that fentanyl intoxication was a cause of child fatalities. 8 of the children studied, or 8.2 percent, died as a result of fentanyl intoxication.
Becktel said that this hasn’t previously been observed in a review of child fatalities in Connecticut but was consistent with national findings. Becktel also added that the time period of the study coincides with a rise in opioid overdose deaths in adults and that children are now being implicated in the public health crisis.
The study notes that during the period of time under review, there were nearly three times as many near-fatalities as fatalities of children under the age of three due to suspected fentanyl ingestion. According to Becktel, children who did survive opioid exposure did so because Naloxone was administered.
Becktel also noted that the report recommends continued efforts to increase Naloxone saturation, paying strategic attention to caregivers of small children. It also recommends the ADPC create a working group to examine the “integration of scientifically-based substance use harm reduction strategies and child protection priorities, with the goal of strengthening best practice approaches for managing risk and safety in caregiver substance abuse dependency cases.”
The committee chairs said they would take the creation of a working group under advisement.