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ER testing gap leaves people in the dark on horse tranquilizer

Overdose deaths involving xylazine are skyrocketing. Emergency rooms don’t test for it, leaving people who don't know they're taking horse tranquilizer in the dark.

Jenna Bourne (WTSP), Libby Hendren

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Published: 10:23 AM EDT August 24, 2023
Updated: 10:39 AM EDT August 24, 2023

“I think my friends might have got a hold of some fentanyl,” a Tampa man told the 911 operator. “Y’all hurry up here, please. I can’t wake them up.”  

Tampa Police and Fire Rescue were called out to 34th Street North and Osborne Avenue. 

Officers’ body camera recordings show family members rushing to the Jackson Heights crime scene before officers had a chance to put up tape. 

“That’s my son,” said one elderly man. 

“That’s my brother,” a family member told another officer. 

This mass overdose happened on July 12, 2022.  

“We came here for one overdose, and we end up with seven,” a TPD officer told a woman who’d driven over to look for her brother. 

“What the hell’s going on?” she said. 

All seven people who were overdosing that night survived. 

“They all fell like flies. I’ve never seen anything like it,” a paramedic can be heard saying to an officer in a TPD body cam recording. “We thought it was just one guy. And when we got out here, they were just falling out the truck as we got here.” 

Some of the patients told police they thought they were taking cocaine.   

It wasn’t cocaine. Tampa Police claim the substance they found tested positive in the field for fentanyl and xylazine. Xylazine is a horse tranquilizer that’s been quietly creeping into the street fentanyl supply for years. 

Police arrested Albert “Berto” Wyche that night. He lived down the street from the crime scene. 

“Seven people overdosed tonight, seven – now, I’m looking you dead in the eyes and I’m being honest, alright – off of what you gave them,” an officer told Wyche in a recorded interview after his arrest. 

“You can’t tell me I gave nobody no drugs tonight,” Wyche told the officer. 

No witnesses showed up for Wyche’s trial, according to the State Attorney’s Office. 

He took a plea deal for felony distribution of a controlled substance. 

Wyche was sentenced to one day in jail but got credit for time served. Jail records show he spent less than 12 hours locked up. 

Wyche told 10 Investigates he has no comment. 

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