Veterinary Drug Xylazine Linked to Human Overdose Deaths

Apr 12, 2021 / Practitioner Updates

Horse

Above: Xylazine, a veterinary drug used as a sedative with analgesic and muscle relaxant properties, is often used in horses.

Xylazine (Rompun®, Sedazine®, AnaSed®) is a medication that is FDA approved for animals only. It is a non-opioid sedative and painkiller. Re­cent reports indicate that it is increasingly being mixed with illegal drugs, such as heroin, to increase the effects of the high.

This drug can significantly lower blood pressure and negatively impact central nervous system function. It can decrease a person’s respiratory rate and heart rate to dangerously low levels.

According to data from the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office, xylazine has been part of 31% of all unintentional overdose deaths where heroin or fentanyl were identified.

In February, the Diversion Control Division of the federal Drug Enforce­ment Administration issued a fact sheet on xylazine citing its increasing abuse by individuals who are also abusing opioids.

Xylazine is in a category of medications called alpha-2 agonists. This type of drug does not respond to Narcan® (naloxone), the widespread reversal agent for an opioid overdose. There are xylazine reversal agents on the market, but they are often not as readily available as Narcan.

In most states, xylazine is not a controlled substance and is often easy to obtain from a veterinarian. We recommend that veterinarians who use xylazine be vigilant of this new information and remain conscientious about its abuse potential to humans.

To learn more about this medication and abuse potential, please download: https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_chem_info/Xylazine.pdf

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By Ashley Mitek, DVM, MS, DACVAA

Dr. Will Sander contributed to this article.