Brooke Goodwin came home one night last March after being out with friends. She had just turned 23 the day before, had a good job, and was planning to go away with friends the following weekend. Her mother, whose bedroom is next door to the kitchen, heard her daughter get some food and go to bed. But Brooke never came downstairs the next day. Her older sister found her in her room. She had overdosed on a toxic mix of the powerful opioid fentanyl cut with xylazine, an animal sedative that is making its way into the illicit drug supply, particularly in the Northeast.
Her death has "just ripped us to shreds," said her mother, Deb Walker, who has four other children. "I didn't even know Brooke was using drugs. I know absolutely she did not know that that was in there," she said. According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this autumn, xylazine was involved in fatal drug overdoses in 23 states in 2019, with the highest rate—67%—happening in the Northeast. The animal sedative used in veterinary medicine to sedate cows, horses, sheep, and other animals is being added to other drugs, mostly fentanyl and heroin, as a cutting agent, officials said.
But unlike opioids, there’s no antidote like Narcan specific to a xylazine overdose, reports the AP. "If somebody’s overdosing on xylazine or on heroin cut with xylazine, that naloxone is not going to have much of an effect on the part of the overdose that’s driven by the xylazine," said Dr. Scott Hadland of MassGeneral Hospital for Children in Boston. Supportive measures can be used if a person is attended to early enough, such as resuscitation, getting them fluids, and other sorts of hospital care, Hadland said. "But this is much more difficult to manage out in the community because it’s inevitably going to be an overdose that involves multiple substances including opioids," he said.
While the rate of overdose deaths where xylazine was listed as a cause of death was low at 1.2%, the report states that the animal tranquilizer's detection may be underestimated. That's because routine post-death toxicology tests "might not have included tests for xylazine, and current testing protocols for xylazine are not standard." Lt. Casey Daniell, commander of the Vermont State Police drug unit, said it's common to see xylazine in the test results for the drugs that police are purchasing undercover. "I think the biggest issue is the fact that it's not a controlled substance, so there's no regulation on it," he said. "It's no different than aspirin," so people cannot be charged for distributing it.
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