FDA links opioid overdoses to animal sedative not for human consumption

The Food and Drug Administration is warning health care professionals to be on alert for the animal medication xylazine which is reportedly being sold and used as an illegal drug that can result in overdoses and worse. 

Xylazine is an FDA-approved animal sedative and pain reliever specifically prescribed by veterinarians. The medication is not approved for human consumption and can cause "serious and life-threatening side effects that appear to be similar to those commonly associated with opioid use," according to the FDA. 

Xylazine has now been found being used in the illegal drug trade in combination with other drugs like fentanyl or heroin, according to the FDA. The agency says many people seeking out other opioids and stimulants may be being sold Xylazine. 

More concerning, the FDA says it’s "difficult to distinguish" xylazine overdoses from other opioid overdoses. 

That’s why FDA officials say health care professionals should continue to administer naloxone, a drug used to prevent opioid overdoses. The agency says health officials should consider "xylazine exposure if patients are not responding to naloxone or when there are signs or symptoms of xylazine exposure (e.g., severe, necrotic skin ulcerations). Health care professionals should provide appropriate supportive measures to patients who do not respond to naloxone."

Currently, the FDA is still investigating how exactly xylazine is entering the illicit drug trade for humans. 

"FDA encourages health care professionals and patients to report adverse events in humans associated with possible illicit xylazine exposure to FDA’s MedWatch Adverse Event Reporting program. Complete and submit the report online at www.fda.gov/medwatch/report.htm; or download and complete the form, then submit it via fax at 1-800-FDA-0178," the agency writes.