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Philly health officials detect a veterinary sedative more powerful than xylazine in drug samples

Aubrey Whelan, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in News & Features

PHILADELPHIA — The animal tranquilizer xylazine's spread into Philadelphia's illicit opioid supply has introduced new hazards to an already-dangerous drug crisis, sending people in addiction into intense blackouts and leaving them with severe skin wounds.

Now, another veterinary sedative more potent than xylazine has emerged. The discovery of the drug, known as medetomidine, in drug samples in the city is another sign of increasing toxicity in the Philadelphia region's illicit drugs.

Yet another emerging danger recently showed up in Montgomery County, where a person who died of an overdose showed signs of having another powerful additive in their system: a nitazene analogue. Part of a class of synthetic opioids more powerful than fentanyl, nitazene analogues have already been found in several overdoses in Philadelphia.

Health officials say the public and physicians need to know about these new dangers — and the unknown threat posed by medetomidine. The Philadelphia health department issued a warning in the last week to share all it knows with physicians and alert them to look out for patients with unusual symptoms.

"We don't really know the effect on humans," said Daniel Teixeira da Silva, the medical director of the Division of Substance Use Prevention and Harm Reduction at Philadelphia's health department.

"Our health alert is really to inform clinicians about this new drug in the drug supply, and how to be aware of some of the symptoms they might expect and how to manage it."


Medetomidine is a veterinary sedative like xylazine. It's not approved for human use, and research on its effects in humans is scant. The drug has also been found in Maryland, Ohio, Florida, and Canada.

The health department regularly tests drug samples purchased in Philadelphia, especially those connected to overdoses. In late April and early May, two samples tested positive for medetomidine, Teixeira da Silva said.

That testing took place about the same time that patients visited Philadelphia hospitals with "prolonged sedation," a low heart rate, and low blood pressure — all symptoms that could suggest they had taken medetomidine.

With little research on its effects in humans, it's difficult to connect the drug to specific symptoms.


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