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[This article has been updated to clarify that the governor’s order directs the Ohio Board of Pharmacy to immediately classify xylazine as a Schedule III controlled substance.]
COLUMBUS, Ohio (WJW) — The animal tranquilizer now being combined with opioids to create the so-called zombie street drug “Tranq” must be considered a Schedule III controlled substance in Ohio, says a Tuesday executive order by Gov. Mike DeWine.
Xylazine is a central nervous system depressant used as a sedative and anesthetic in veterinary medicine, and it isn’t approved for human consumption, according to a news release from the governor’s office.
“This lethal drug has dangerous side effects which can’t be reversed by naloxone, so there is no way to reverse its impact on people,” DeWine is quoted in a Wednesday news release. “The rate of overdose deaths involving a mixture of xylazine and other drugs is increasing at an alarming rate, which is exactly why we need to take action now.”
Xylazine being increasingly found to be added to illegal drugs in Ohio like heroin and fentanyl and other synthetic opioids to increase their effect or resale value, according to the order. When combined with opioids, it makes breathing more difficult for a user who is overdosing, leading to death. But because xylazine is not an opioid, it’s not affected by the life-saving overdose remedy naloxone.
According to the Ohio Department of Health, overdose deaths involving xylazine have increased each year since 2019: There were 15 in 2019; 45 in 2020; 75 in 2021; and 113 in 2022, as of of March 14 of that year. Of those overdose deaths, 99.2% also involved fentanyl.
Xylazine can also cause skin ulcers causing tissue to decay and become infected, leading to amputation at a higher rate than for other intravenous drug users.
DeWine’s order directs the Ohio Board of Pharmacy to immediately make xylazine a Schedule III controlled substance, making its sale and trafficking a criminal offense.
Schedule III controlled substances have “moderate to low” potential for dependency and include products with a small amount of codeine like Tylenol with codeine, ketamine and anabolic steroids, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Schedule I drugs have the highest potential for abuse and include heroin, marijuana and LSD.
The classification also allows for “more robust testing” for the drug, reads the release. Some Ohio crime labs estimate between 25% and 30% of fentanyl cases today contain xylazine, according to the Ohio Narcotics Intelligence Center — but its presence is believed to be underreported because it was not a controlled substance.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency last week issued a public safety alert about “Tranq.” reported FOX 8 sister station WPIX. Federal drug labs testing on seized drugs reported xylazine was found in 23% of all fentanyl powder and 7% of all fentanyl pills.
“Xylazine is making the deadliest drug threat our country has ever faced, fentanyl, even deadlier,” said DEA Administrator Ann Milgram. “DEA has seized xylazine and fentanyl mixtures in 48 of 50 states.”
Xylazine was recently under the oversight of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which last month announced it would restrict imports of the drug and its ingredients, WPIX reported.