What is Xylazine? Animal tranquilizer popping up in more overdose deaths

What is Xylazine? Animal tranquilizer popping up in more overdose deaths

2-year-old found dead in July with drug in her system

YORK COUNTY, Va. (WAVY) – Xylazine, a drug typically reserved for tranquilizing large animals like horses and cattle is showing up in more overdose cases in Virginia, and across the country.

“It’s one of a plethora of drugs that’s coming out. They pop up, disappear, pop up, disappear – and this is one that’s been around for awhile,” said Dr. Chris Holstege with the University of Virginia.

Earlier this month, it was revealed that a combination of Xylazine and fentanyl were listed as the cause of death for two-year-old Delilah Gunn, found dead in York County in July. Her parents, Jesse Gunn, 37, and Anna Raines, 29, are facing murder charges in connection with their daughter’s death. Delilah’s grandfather, Timothy Raines, is charged with child neglect.

“I was surprised at the Xylazine because we haven’t seen a case here in York County that involves Xylazine being mixed with fentanyl,” said Maj. Ron Montgomery with the York County Sheriff’s Office.

In fact, this is the first deadly Xylazine overdose that 10 On Your Side has covered. But Holstege said he’s seeing these types of cases more frequently in the emergency room.

“It causes sedation. It causes your heart rate to slow, respirations to slow, your blood pressure to drop,” Holstege said.

Because it’s often used as a filler for other drugs, people who have Xylazine in their system, may not even know they’ve ingested in.

“They think they’re buying heroin,” Holstege said. “I would say that the majority of them have no idea what they’re buying.”

This also makes Xylazine overdoes difficult to treat.

The drug is unique in that it presents like an opioid in how it causes overdoses — but since it’s not an opioid, treatments used for those overdoses, like Narcan, won’t work for Xylazine users.

“We’re starting to see it more in Virginia and at our own clinical practice, too. It’s not something we typically will pick up on drug screens so the true prevalence out there is not clear,” Holstege said.

A 2022 study found the drug is increasingly present in overdose deaths. Maj. Ron Montgomery says his team works with the DEA to keep them informed of trends they’re seeing in York County.

“I hope, if nothing else, the people out there that have [a drug] problem, if they had children or other family members around, they need to become aware of how dangerous this drug is,” he said.

“More deaths could be the result of this,” he said.

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What is Xylazine? Animal tranquilizer popping up in more overdose deaths

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