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The opioid crisis is taking an even deadlier turn, as the country is beginning to see a widespread increase of the drug xylazine, further exacerbating the disastrous epidemic.

The animal tranquilizer known as “tranq,” is a powerful, non-opiate sedative, muscle relaxant, and analgesic specifically authorized for veterinary use in the United States. When ingested, the drug plays as a depressant to the central nervous system, causing drowsiness, amnesia and slow breathing, while also knocking blood pressure and heart rates down to life-threatening low levels.

“Xylazine is making the deadliest drug threat our country has ever faced,” said the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Administrator, Anne Milgram. “DEA has seized xylazine and fentanyl mixtures in 48 of 50 States.”

The DEA Laboratory System reports that approximately 23% of fentanyl powder and 7% of fentanyl pills seized by the administration contained xylazine in 2022. Local statistics estimate roughly 84% of all D.C. opioid deaths occurred among the Black population despite making only 47% of the city’s total population, with the majority of the affected residents living and dying within Wards 5, 7 and 8— predominantly Black communities.

The rapid increase and penetration of the drug mixed with opioids create a “zombie” effect within users. Unfortunately, naloxone, the opioid reversal medication recently approved for over-the-counter access, does not reverse its deadly effects. Currently, there is no known antidote to remedy the effects of xylazine once ingested.

The Greatest Challenge Feeding The Crisis

Despite the rate of opioid overdoses more than doubling the rate of homicides across the city, local organizations fighting to eradicate the crisis argue that the District of Columbia contains no adequate infrastructure, or workforce to effectively support substance and opioid use disorder.

Currently, both neighboring states of Virginia and Maryland have declared a National Public Health Emergency on the opioid crisis, while the District remains without an official declaration of an emergency on the crisis.

The Health Alliance Network (HAN) advocates an ambitious campaign to the D.C. Council, to revamp efforts that address the epidemic, as its oversight has caused an insidious effect on the city’s crime and social challenges.

“If you address the opioid crisis, then you also begin to address the crime issue, and the gun violence issue,” said HAN Chair, and Founder, Ambrose Lane Jr.

The organization urges varying suggestions, and resources to rectify the crisis, largely requesting: the city declare that the current opioid crisis constitutes a Public Health Emergency; create an emergency fund of roughly $35-$50 million to fund 24 hour residential treatment facilities that will treat co-occurring disorders for both adults and city youth; and construct a harm reduction center within the East of the River community for “safe and monitored consumption” to name a few.

“What we have learned from the crack-cocaine epidemic, is to help those suffering from the opioid-fentanyl crisis. How many residents have to die before the city understands we are under siege again?” said Rhonda Johnson, author and chief executive officer for the Now Hope 2 Reality, LLC.

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