Warnings of new deadly chemical in street drug supply : NPR

People gather outside the Savage Sisters’ community outreach storefront in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. The area is being hit hard by Medetomidine and Xylazine, powerful sedatives most often used by veterinarians that are moving through the illicit drug supply triggering “mass overdose” events and causing gruesome skin wounds.

Matt Rourke/AP


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Matt Rourke/AP

Public health officials say Mexican cartels and drug gangs inside the U.S. are mixing a dangerous chemical sedative called medetomidine into fentanyl and other drugs sold on the street. The combination triggered a new wave of overdoses that began in late April and have accelerated in May.

“The numbers reported out of Philadelphia were 160 hospitalizations over a 3 or 4-day period,” said Alex Krotulski who heads an organization called NPS Discovery that studies illicit drugs sold in the U.S.

Medetomidine, most often used by veterinarians as an animal tranquilizer, but also formulated for use in human patients, has also been linked to recent “mass overdose outbreaks” in Chicago and Pittsburgh.

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Dr. Brendan Hart at Temple University in Philadelphia says they first began hearing reports of street drug users exposed to the fentanyl-medetomidine mix in April.

“Some of our emergency medicine doctors started stopping me in the hallway,” Hart told NPR.

“They said ‘Something funny is going on with the overdoses.’ Patients were coming in with very low heart rates. As low as in the 20s. A normal heart-rate is sixty to a hundred [beats per minute] so 20s is extremely low.”

Laboratory tests of street drug samples came back positive for the powerful sedative, which is used in some formulations by doctors with human patients, but only in carefully controlled medical settings.

Medetomidine was previously detected in the illicit drug supply as early as 2022 but only rarely and in small amounts. , with large-scale overdose events also , Canada.

U.S. drug supply grows more toxic

Last year the Biden administration issued a warning that street fentanyl was being mixed with another tranquilizer used by veterinarians called xylazine. That mix of drugs led to more overdoses and many users also experience terrible flesh wounds that can linger for months or years.

, but roughly 107,000 people in the U.S. still died after using street drugs.

Addiction experts worry modest gains in saving lives of drug users could be reversed as more toxic chemicals like medetomidine and xylazine hit the streets.

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