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Deaths from xylazine are on the rise. The White House has a new plan to tackle it

Test strips used to detect fentanyl and xylazine in street drugs, are seen at St. Ann's Corner of Harm Reduction in New York City on May 25, 2023. Overdose deaths involving xylazine have soared.
Angela Weiss
/
AFP via Getty Images
Test strips used to detect fentanyl and xylazine in street drugs, are seen at St. Ann's Corner of Harm Reduction in New York City on May 25, 2023. Overdose deaths involving xylazine have soared.

The White House is marshaling a new plan to try to beef up testing, tracking and treatment for street drugs laced with xylazine, a veterinary tranquilizer that has contributed to a surge of overdose deaths across the country.

The administration listed xylazine combined with fentanyl as an emerging threat back in April. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that last year, the veterinary drug was linked to nearly 11% of all fentanyl overdoses.

Dr. Rahul Gupta, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said xylazine has now been detected in nearly every state.

"If we thought that fentanyl was dangerous, fentanyl-combined xylazine is even deadlier," Gupta told reporters.

In a new plan released Tuesday, Gupta's office outlined several steps it plans to take to try to decrease the number of deaths from xylazine. Over the next 60 days, a group of federal agencies will add more details about how they'll put the plan into action.

Increased research and data collection are a priority, Gupta said, "to see the full picture of this threat."

The office also wants to focus on treatments for xylazine-related overdoses. When xylazine is combined with fentanyl, it can complicate the use of medications like Narcan that work to reverse opioid overdose, since xylazine itself is not an opioid.

Additionally, xylazine produces what Gupta described as "deep flesh wounds" that are challenging to treat. "As a physician, I've never seen wounds this bad at this scale," he said.

Gupta said the government is also working on ways to stop online imports of xylazine and its ingredients from China and Mexico for street drugs, while making sure that veterinarians can still get the legal supplies that they need.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.