Another danger for drug addicts: animal tranquilizers

CHESTER, Vermont. – Brooke Goodwin returned home one evening last March after going out with friends. She had just turned 23 the day before, had a good job and planned to go away with friends the following weekend. Her mother, whose bedroom is next to the kitchen, heard her daughter go get food and go to bed.

But Brooke never came down the next day. Her older sister found her in her room. She had overdosed on a toxic mix of the powerful opioid fentanyl cut with xylazine, an animal sedative that is making its way into the illicit drug supply, especially in the North East.

His death “just tore us to shreds,” said his mother, Deb Walker, who has four other children.

“I didn’t even know Brooke was using drugs. I know she had absolutely no idea it was in there,” she said.

According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report this fall, xylazine was implicated in fatal drug overdoses in 23 states in 2019, with the highest rate — 67% — occurring in the Northeast. The animal sedative used in veterinary medicine to calm cows, horses, sheep and other animals is added to other drugs, mostly fentanyl and heroin, as a cutting agent, researchers said. responsible.

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But unlike opioids, there is no antidote like naloxone, also called Narcan, specific to an overdose of xylazine.

Animal tranquilizer is also not a controlled substance and is not approved for human use. When used in illicitly produced opioids, xylazine can increase the risk of a fatal overdose, the CDC warns.

“If someone overdoses on xylazine or heroin cut with xylazine, that naloxone won’t have much effect on the part of the overdose that’s caused by the xylazine,” Dr. Scott said. Hadland, an addictions physician and head of the adolescent department. and young adult medicine at MassGeneral Hospital for Children in Boston.

Supportive measures can be used if a person is treated early enough, such as resuscitation, provision of fluids and other types of hospital care, Hadland said. “But it’s a lot harder to deal with in the community because it’s inevitably going to be an overdose involving multiple substances, including opioids,” he said.

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While the overdose death rate where xylazine was listed as the cause of death was low at 1.2%, the report says detection of the animal tranquilizer may be underestimated. This is because routine toxicology testing after death “may not have included testing for xylazine, and current testing protocols for xylazine are not standard.”

“It’s been going on for a while, but there are also a lot of indications from local authorities that the problem is getting worse, especially here in the Northeast,” Hadland said.

One or more other drugs have also been listed as the cause of overdose deaths, including heroin and cocaine, with fentanyl being the most common, according to the CDC report.

“We know fentanyl is part of the drug supply. We know it’s in the heroin supply, so often when you think you’re buying heroin, you’re actually getting fentanyl. I think that’s what’s happening with xylazine,” Hadland said. “You think you’re getting heroin and you’re getting something that’s cut with xylazine.”

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Nationally, overdose deaths have been rising for more than two decades, but have jumped 30% in the past year. Health officials say the jump is linked to the COVID-19 pandemic and a supply of more dangerous drugs.

In the small rural state of Vermont, the number of fatal overdoses involving xylazine combined with opioids has tripled from five in 2020 to 15 in the first seven months of this year, according to a report from the Department of Health of the Vermont.

Lt. Casey Daniell, commander of the Vermont State Police Drug Unit, said it’s common to see xylazine in test results for drugs police buy undercover.

“I think the biggest issue is the fact that it’s not a controlled substance, so there’s no regulation on that,” he said. “It’s no different than aspirin,” so people can’t be accused of handing it out.

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Walker says his daughter was poisoned.

Drugs and addiction had cropped up repeatedly in their conversations, Walker said, because Goodwin was helping friends who used drugs.

“She was trying to help them. She did everything she could to try to help them clean up and they pulled her down,” Walker said during a visit to Goodwin’s grave earlier this month.

The more information there is about xylazine, the better, she says.

“There are so many people who would love not to (consume) who couldn’t beat it. Maybe it’s the people who would hear that and understand that and that might help and that would be great,” Walker said.

Brooke not only lived with her mother, but worked with her at Precision Valley Communications, a mapping, engineering and design company for the telecommunications and utility industries, where she was a CAD operator.

“All my colleagues thought she was wonderful and everyone was so shocked. There was no clue. She was not a drug addict; however, she was using.”

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Brooke died on March 14, 2021, two days after her birthday and one day before her mother’s. She “loved her dog, photography, road trips and investigating the supernatural,” according to her obituary.

She was buried the day before Halloween, her favorite holiday, and those present were encouraged to dress up. Now her 9-year-old sisters, who are twins, are asking their mother if the family will give Brooke a Christmas present.

Her friend, Haley Decelle, says Brooke was “kind, calm and level-headed” and that the couple had taken frequent road trips and had matching tattoos. Decelle is pregnant now.

“It sucks because we always talked about doing all this together when one of us got pregnant,” she said. “And now I can’t do it anymore.”

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