Xylazine, a horse tranquilizer, detected in 15 overdose deaths in Vermont this year


Public safety and health officials study drugs to know exactly what’s on the streets in Vermont. Sometimes they find drugs mixed with sugar or other substances, but now they’re discovering a dangerous cutting agent on the rise– Xylazine.

“We hadn’t looked for this drug before,” Amanda Jones, lead analyst of overdose surveillance at the Vermont Health Department. “When I looked at 2021 and saw that prevalence essentially tripled, that’s what concerned me”

After reading national findings by the CDC, she dove into Vermont’s environment and found the horse tranquilizer was detected in fifteen opioid deaths in 2021.

“It’s used in animal medicine to sedate patients that are going to have anesthesia,” Dr. Erin Forbes said. “When you sedate animals it keeps them calm. It’s typically in my experience used in larger mammals.”

Dr. Forbes works with smaller animals, so she doesn’t use Xylazine at Mountain View Animal Hospital, but she says if overused, it can cause seizures and low blood pressure in animals. In people, it can also slow heart rate and law enforcement say it’s not reversible.

“It does not have a medical antidote,” Erin Monahan said. “The way Naloxone reverses opioids, we don’t have that for Xylazine.”

Monahan analyzes drugs with the state’s intelligence center under Vermont State Police. She adds another concern is Xylazine is not FDA regulated for human use.

“There aren’t the same regulations on transport and on storage and on sale as controlled substances,” she said. “So it’s harder to track.”

With the presence of Xylazine on the rise, health officials hope spreading the word will save lives.

“We want people to stay alive,” Jones said. “We want people to reach out for resources and this is just one piece in a very complex puzzle.”

The health department says it will continue to monitor data around Xylazine to determine if a certain county or demographic is impacted more.

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