By a Michigan Harm Redux Worker

For years, it has seemed that it was working: the flow of money and awareness into the world of harm reduction and safer injection practices was saving lives. Though still marginalized and threatened by the state and bureaucrats at all levels, people who use drugs were finally given a means to protect themselves from death: our chemical friend naloxone, often sold as Narcan.

Countless doses of Narcan have been disseminated to bar staff and office drones alike, who are now trained to administer the life-saving doses and educated to (hopefully) move beyond stigma and prejudice, signaling a light at the end of the tunnel, an end to senseless fentanyl-touched death and suffering. 

However, an ominous shade loomed over the future. As we did our work, there seemed a sense that it may become too easy: that we might become too secure in our reliance on this inert nasal spray. With bated breath, we awaited unknown new threats to our friends and loved ones.

Enter, Xylazine, known on the streets as “tranq”: a veterinary tranquilizer none-too-tranquil; a new player upon the stage who displays a troubling array of fearsome traits for those who use drugs of any sort, among them:

  • A dissatisfying and short-lived high
  • Acute risk of tissue damage far beyond what is typical of cuts and mistaken injections
  • A lack of federal substance scheduling which makes it more available than many street drugs. Though doubtless a mere stanch to bleeding, scheduling would allow for research that might help people use more safely. 
  • And perhaps most troublingly, resistance to revival by Narcan—our aforementioned best tool against the specter of accidental death—due to this new interloper’s chemical mechanisms.

In short, Xylazine is here, it is in the mix. An innocuous-seeming white powder indistinguishable from your heroin, your cocaine, your methamphetamine that is not innocuous at all. At the risk of fear mongering, we are perhaps witnessing the first stones falling that precede an avalanche of new death, suffering and backlash. 

I implore my friends to be safe with their choices and to never use alone, because right now, our best hope lies in prompt CPR, swift ventilation and a clear mind towards this new threat. Our best hope lies in each other, as it always has. May we be patient and compassionate towards those at increased risk, educate ourselves and one another, and fight for a world where people can be assured of what they ingest. 

We will continue playing chemical Whac-A-Mole until all drugs are made legal and the war on people who use drugs is brought to an unequivocal end. Be sure that the state will leverage this new fear to crack down harder on people. Be sure that it won’t work to keep anyone safe. Please, please, please: be safe out there.