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Sen. Welch’s xylazine bill to combat deadly drug to be signed into law by President Biden

Dec 8, 2023

A bill co-sponsored by Sen. Peter Welch, D-Vermont, to take on the “deadly rise” of xylazine, an animal tranquilizer, in the nation’s illicit drug supply − including in Vermont − will soon be signed into law by President Joe Biden, according to a news release.

The bipartisan Testing, Rapid Analysis, Narcotic Quality (TRANQ) Research Act, co-sponsored by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, passed the U.S. House of Representatives this week with unanimous support. The Senate passed the bill in June. The bill directs the National Institute of Standards and Technology to develop new tests to detect the drug in patients, and to establish partnerships with the organizations dealing firsthand with xylazine.

Xylazine wounds in Jeannie Morrill’s ankle, as seen on Aug. 30, 2023.

“In my first week as Vermont’s new senator, I came home to talk about the opioid and drug epidemic, and it couldn’t have been more clear: the drug supply in Vermont has changed and it’s making an already brutal overdose crisis even more challenging to combat,” Welch said in a statement. “Our communities needed federal resources to deal with xylazine, and they needed it now. So we got to work − and we did it in a bipartisan way.”

Health care system pushed to limit dealing with xylazine

Xylazine, a large-animal tranquilizer, is being mixed into Burlington’s illicit drug supply, along with fentanyl and other substances. Dealing with xylazine, which causes flesh-eating wounds, has ratcheted up the stress on a health care system already straining from the pressure of rising drug overdoses.

Dr. Daniel Wolfson in the emergency department at the University of Vermont Medical Center, as seen on June 9, 2023. Wolfson said he's never seen wounds like the ones xylazine causes in its victims.
Dr. Daniel Wolfson in the emergency department at the University of Vermont Medical Center, as seen on June 9, 2023. Wolfson said he’s never seen wounds like on the ones xylazine causes in victims. DAN D’AMBROSIO/FREE PRESS

A report released by the Vermont Department of Health in April showed a 10% increase in opioid-related fatal overdoses from 217 deaths in 2021 to 239 deaths in 2022. There were 158 opioid-related overdose deaths in 2020. Xylazine was involved in 28% of fatal opioid overdoses in 2022, up from 13% in 2021, more than doubling.

To make matters worse, xylazine does not respond to naloxone, the drug doctors and first responders rely on to resuscitate those who have overdosed on opioids. Xylazine is not an opioid, and there is currently no antidote available.

The TRANQ Research Act was sponsored in the House by Rep. Mike Collins, R-Georgia, and Rep. Yadira Caraveo, D-Colorado. Tranq is a street term for xylazine.

Story Written by Dan D’Ambrosio, Burlington Free Press

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