By Nikki Carvajal, CNN
(CNN) — The Biden administration has introduced a new plan to combat overdose deaths from xylazine, a powerful veterinary sedative that has increasingly shown up in such deaths across the country, exacerbating the opioid overdose epidemic in the United States.
“I’m announcing that the White House is releasing our national response plan to coordinate a whole of government response to this threat,” White House Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy Dr. Rahul Gupta said during a call with reporters on Monday. “Xylazine itself slows breathing and heart rate and lowers the blood pressure to unsafe levels and complicates efforts to reverse opioid overdoses with medications like naloxone or Narcan.”
Xylazine, also known as tranq or tranq dope, has been linked to an increasing number of overdose deaths in the US due to its rising illicit use. It’s usually found mixed with opioids such as fentanyl, but it doesn’t respond to the opioid overdose medication naloxone.
The Biden administration’s strategy has six so-called pillars of action, including testing, data collection, prevention, supply reduction, scheduling and research. The White House said that testing for xylazine was ongoing in community and law enforcement settings, but it wasn’t enough.
“We need more testing to get a national picture of the threat. So, the federal government will work towards standardizing forensic testing practices, towards developing new tests for clinical settings, towards deploying testing in community settings as well as targeting testing to those who need it,” a White House official said during the call. They added that test strips for xylazine exist, and the administration wants to see those “available widely.”
On scheduling, which classifies drugs into specific categories, administration officials said they wanted to balance making sure the drug is still available in a veterinary setting while allowing law enforcement to take “decisive action.”
Gupta said that data from the Drug Enforcement Administration shows that overdose deaths involving xylazine increased more than 1,000% in the South, more than 750% in the West and more than 500% in the Midwest between 2020 and 2021.
This past April, the White House declared fentanyl combined with xylazine an “emerging threat” facing the United States due to its role in the ongoing opioid crisis. It marked the first time in history that any administration has declared a substance to be an emerging threat to the country, Gupta said at the time.
The SUPPORT Act of 2018 established that the office has authority to declare such “emerging threats,” and no administration had previously used it.
Last year, Congress declared methamphetamine an emerging drug threat. Under other agencies or in separate circumstances, concerns such as bioterrorism, infectious diseases or climate change may be identified as “emerging threats.”
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