Butler County watching as latest new drug in overdose battle ‘rears its head’

Battling the drug problem is getting more “frustrating” because as progress is being celebrated another substance “rears its head,” the Butler County coroner said after the state’s most recent alert.

The Ohio Department of Public Safety is warning emergency medical service providers about the dangers of xylazine, a drug made for animals that is being used in illegally produced opioids.

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In an email that was sent last week to EMS providers, including those in Butler County, the state said preliminary analysis of death certificate data has identified three Ohio overdose deaths this year involving fentanyl and xylazine. However, many coroners may not include xylazine in their routine toxicology testing that would leave it “largely undetected” in this data, the email said. .

While Butler County Coroner Dr. Lisa Mannix is aware of the detection of xylazine in some deaths in Ohio, no fatal overdoses involving xylazine are known to have occurred in Butler County, she said.

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Xylazine is legally administered to animals by veterinarians as a sedative and an analgesic. Unlike morphine, fentanyl, or carfentanil, xylazine is not a scheduled medication. That means a Drug Enforcement Administration license is not required to obtain xylazine, and this factor makes the drug “more readily accessible.”

In 2016, carfentanil and other fentanyl derivatives were first detected in Butler County, Mannix said. Now, she said, methamphetamine has “made a comeback.”

She said Butler County community partners have “poured time and resources” into battling the opioid epidemic with success in reduction of drug-related deaths. The number of drug overdoses steadily increased from 2012 to 2017 in Butler County, according to the coroner’s office.

In 2017, there were 232 fatal overdoses and 191 were opioid-related. Then in 2018, for the first time since 2012, the number of ODs dropped to 164 deaths, with 135 opioid-related.

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Now Mannix is concerned what impact xylazine may have on future overdose deaths. She said when a drug with a “different mechanism” emerges, some current tactics, such as the use of narcan, are ineffective.

“This is potentially tragic for the families of, and those individuals who are, suffering with addiction,” the coroner said. “While we have not yet seen xylazine in Butler County, it is important that as a community we be vigilant of new and emerging trends so our response can be quick and effective.”

In humans, xylazine can cause respiratory depression, various forms of heart block, and death. There is “very little research” on the effects of xylazine combined with opioids in human beings, according to the state.

Butler County Health Commissioner Jenny Bailer said it’s difficult staying up with the latest illegal drugs. She said drug dealers are “so creative” and they’re always looking for “new ways” to market the products.

“There’s always something new out there,” Bailer said.

Now, more than ever, Bailer said it’s time to spend resources on prevention. The best way to combat drug addiction is to stop it before it begins, she said.

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