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Tampa Bay-area sees spike in overdose deaths involving fentanyl mixed with animal drug

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody says fentanyl is becoming more deadly with it being mixed with a drug called xylazine, nicknamed "Tranq."

SARASOTA, Fla. — Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody issued a public safety alert Wednesday about the dangers of a drug called xylazine — a substance marked for animal use.

During a news conference at the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office headquarters, Moody highlighted new statistics showcasing how the drug nicknamed "Tranq" is affecting people not only in the U.S. but also locally.

With some percentage of fentanyl coming into the country being mixed with xylazine, the poison is making its way to the Sunshine State, the attorney general explained.

In Sarasota, Manatee and Desoto counties alone, nearly 250 people reportedly died from fentanyl poisoning in 2021, which is a 485% increase since 2016.

"And as deadly and terrifying as illicit fentanyl is proving to be, its lethality is being enhanced by a drug that is being brought and sold in most U.S. states legally —  xylazine," Moody said.

Sarasota has the third largest increase in "Tranq" deaths in the state, Moody explained. The drug was the 11th most frequently identified drug in Florida Department of Law Enforcement crime labs in 2021 — but now in 2023, it is the sixth.

“That is a very short time frame to go from being the 11th most frequently identified substance to the sixth,” Moody said. “And Sarasota is one of the major drivers in that increase.”

In 2023 alone so far, FDLE reportedly identified xylazine more than 55 times a month in crime labs which is up from a total of 45 in 2022 and 32 in 2021.

According to the attorney general, since xylazine is cheap and easily accessible, drug dealers sometimes mix it in with fentanyl.

The issue with this is people taking the drug aren't aware of the mixture, and if an overdose does happen, it poses a greater issue. Because xylazine isn't an opioid —  it doesn't respond to overdose reversal drugs like Narcan or Naloxone.

In 2016, Florida outlawed xylazine, but the sedative was approved by the Food and Drug Administration for animal use on a national scale.

Moody is pressing the issue of Tranq is making fentanyl "even deadlier."

Florida reportedly sent a letter to the Drug Enforcement Administration asking the agency and federal government to follow the Sunshine State by outlawing the drug.

“Congress is also exploring a national ban and that is because of increasing number of deaths,” Moody explained.

Back in December 2022, 10 Investigates uncovered information that people have been overdosing on a combination of fentanyl and xylazine in the Tampa Bay area for years. 

According to the CDC, when xylazine is combined with opioids, it increases the risk of fatal overdose because it can cause slowed heart rate, low blood pressure, and slow, ineffective breathing.

In a previous report, researchers at Yale wrote that xylazine first started popping up in Puerto Rico in 2001. In the past few years, it’s started showing up in toxicology reports in the states, especially in the Northeast.

10 Investigates compiled toxicology results showing xylazine has been quietly creeping into the fentanyl supply in Florida over the past few years. 

“The mixture of fentanyl and now xylazine in more traditional illicit substances has never been more prevalent,” Moody said. “So that’s why we have worked extraordinarily hard to ensure that resources are out there.”

"This stuff is not your father's heroine. It's not your grandparent's opium. This stuff is much more potent because it is mixed with things that don't act normal in terms of an opioid overdose," said Jeremy Lund of Sarasota. 

Lund is a toxicology clinical pharmacy specialist at Sarasota Memorial Hospital. He said now that Naloxone is available over the counter it can help with regular fentanyl overdoses and wants to encourage people to keep a supply around them in case they encounter someone who has overdosed. However, while used as part of first aid, Naloxone is powerless against Xylazine, according to both experts and law enforcement.

 "It may not return the spontaneous breathing that we'd like to see after we give naloxone but it's going to help," Lund said. 

Anyone struggling with addiction can go to treatmentatlas.org and be guided to where people can get help.

“It’s important that we protect our citizens and that we try to make sure that they’re not being exposed to fentanyl or xylazine because as you can see, we’re losing a lot of our citizens to these dangerous drugs,” Sarasota County Sheriff Kurt Hoffman said during the news conference.

10 Investigates' Jenna Bourne and Libby Hendren contributed to this report.


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