Horse tranquilizer makes Minnesota’s fentanyl crisis even more dangerous

There are signs that a new chapter in the overdose epidemic is unfolding in the Twin Cities.

And this is perhaps the most dangerous chapter to date.

Data obtained by 5 INVESTIGATES shows that a drug called xylazine is creeping into the local supply at an alarming rate for law enforcement, doctors and the Minnesota Department of Health.

Xylazine is a tranquilizer used on horses, but is now mixed with fentanyl to make the high last longer. This can lead to lifelong skin injuries, intense withdrawal and making it more difficult to rescue people in the event of an overdose.

“It’s out of this world. This has never been seen before,” said Alyssa Cunningham, who leads the women’s side of the Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge in South Minneapolis.

Over the past few months, Cunningham says at least three of his clients have had the worst drug rehab they’ve ever seen, and they suspect it’s from xylazine.

“They can’t control what comes out of them. They can’t control words, they can’t control movements, they’re paralyzed,” she said. «They’re throwing up, having diarrhea, the whole room – we’re calling in the hazmat crews to clean up, like in a homicide case.»

Unlike fentanyl, xylazine is not an opioid. This means that life-saving drugs, such as Narcan, may not be as effective in reversing overdoses.

«When they’re on the street and they overdose, Narcan doesn’t save them,» Cunningham said.

This is especially alarming for those who have relied on Narcan as they battle their addiction.

«They think, ‘oh, well Narcan will bring me back, I’ll be fine,’ but that worry has increased so much.» said Cassie Lane, who has been recovering for more than a year from the Adult and Teen Challenge.

«It’s very scary,» said Olivia Templeman, who entered recovery from fentanyl and heroin addiction just as xylazine was starting to emerge in the Twin Cities.

“I’m terrified for my kids in the future…and my friends who still use,” she said.

Experts say Narcan should always be given during overdoses because it is impossible to know if the xylazine is causing the reaction.

33 cases

MDH epidemiologist Mary DeLaquil says the number of fatal overdoses including xylazine has doubled every year since she started tracking it in 2019.

«It’s increasing dramatically,» she said.

Xylazine appeared on at least 33 death certificates in Minnesota last year, according to MDH data.

DeLaquil says more medical examiners and coroners are now looking for xylazine in toxicology reports.

“They know xylazine is a problem in reversing overdoses, so they’re doing what they can to track how much xylazine we’re seeing among overdose deaths,” DeLaquil said.

«Widely underrated»

But state data only tells part of the story due to a dire lack of testing. Routine drug screens in hospitals and other medical facilities do not test for xylazine.

That’s why the Drug Enforcement Administration also warns that «it is very likely that the prevalence of xylazine is grossly underestimated,» according to a joint intelligence report released late last year on the dangers of xylazine. dope.

Related: Federal Prosecutors Detail Fentanyl Operation That Killed Professor U

Xylazine first started popping up on the East Coast over a decade ago, where there are now horrifying reminders of the dangers of what has become one of the drug’s signature and mysterious traits.

Medical experts say that the use of xylazine causes large gaping skin wounds in different parts of the body, regardless of how the drug is used.

“There have been several people, especially in Philadelphia and New York, where this has been a bigger issue,” said Brit Culp, addiction treatment specialist at Hennepin Healthcare in Minneapolis.

In some cases, the injuries became so severe that they led to amputation.

«We have ample opportunity to learn from Puerto Rico and Philadelphia and other places on the East Coast,» Culp said.

Culp and other medical experts believe the key is to start routine testing and raise awareness about the drug and the harm it causes.

«It’s really, really hard to see,» Alyssa Cunningham told Adult and Teen Challenge. «You’re tearing up, you immediately want to help…how do I get them to a point where they can live again?»

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