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What is xylazine? Animal tranquilizer a growing problem, officials say

Xylazine overdoses in Beaver County prompt warning from DA
Xylazine overdoses in Beaver County prompt warning from DA 02:27

MURRYSVILLE, Pa. (KDKA) — The DEA says fentanyl is the deadliest drug threat our country has ever faced, and xylazine, an animal tranquilizer, is making it even deadlier. 

On Wednesday, the Beaver County District Attorney's Office raised the alarm about two recent overdose deaths involving the drug, but it's impacting the whole region, including in Westmoreland County, where officials say it's a growing problem.

These days one drug is on top of mind for Westmoreland County detective Tony Marcocci – xylazine.

"It's a never-ending battle. It's a never-ending struggle," Marcocci said. "We're seeing it in almost every bag of heroin we're purchasing on the streets here in Westmoreland County."

Known as tranq, it's a powerful sedative used by veterinarians and is usually found mixed with fentanyl as addicts ingest it to extend the duration of a high.

"We're finding in every nook and cranny of Westmoreland County," Marcocci said.

Marcocci said no community is immune, adding that 70 percent of the heroin on the street has xylazine in it.

"It's overwhelming for law enforcement to try and stop this because the addiction is just enhanced," Marcocci said.

Westmoreland County Coroner Tim Carson told KDKA-TV that toxicology results so far this year reveal more than 50 percent of overdoses tested positive for xylazine, a 25 percent increase from all of 2022. He only started to see xylazine pop up on toxicology reports in 2019.

The biggest problem is Narcan doesn't work with the drug.

"God only knows where we're going to be a year from now," Marcocci said.

Marcocci fears it's only going to get worse, as does Tim Phillips, who heads up the Westmoreland County Overdose Task Force.

"If we don't get a grip on this soon, I'm afraid what's going to happen," Phillips said. "We're seeing amputations caused by this, which is really, really concerning."

He's been drug-free since 1988. Now, he's trying to educate the public and help other addicts with free test strips.

"We would rather have them check their drugs to make sure they're safe, rather than ingesting something that's going to be lethal," Phillips said.

Earlier this year, the White House declared xylazine to be an emerging threat in the country, the first time in history for a drug.

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