During a Tuesday morning press conference in Philadelphia, Gov. Josh Shapiro announced that his administration would be taking action to limit access to xylazine, also known as “tranq.”
Acting Secretary of Health Dr. Debra Bogen has submitted a notice of intent to temporarily add the drug to the list of schedule III drugs under Pennsylvania’s Controlled Substance, Drug, Device, and Cosmetic Act. Bogen will also do the same for nitazines, a class of synthetic opioids that have never been approved for use in the United States, as a schedule I drug.
“Xylazine is a powerful animal sedative that should never be ingested by humans and is compounding our fight against the opioid crisis – and today, my Administration is taking action to keep it out of our communities and protect Pennsylvanians. The steps we are taking today will help ensure this dangerous drug can’t be diverted from legitimate sources to the drug dealers harming our communities, while preserving its important use on animals,” said Shapiro.
“Xylazine has a real purpose for veterinarians, but is being abused by drug dealers and harming those suffering from substance use disorder. My Administration is committed to helping Pennsylvanians get the treatment they need, and we will work with our partners in law enforcement to get these drugs out of our communities and bring the drug dealers poisoning our communities to justice.”
According to the Department of Health, drugs and other substances that are considered controlled substances under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) are divided into five schedules. Substances are placed in their respective schedules based on whether they have a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, their relative abuse potential, and likelihood of causing dependence when abused.
- Schedule I. a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in the United States, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision. Examples include heroin, LSD, marijuana (cannabis), and Ecstasy.
- Schedule III. a potential for abuse less than the substances listed in Schedules I and II; well documented and currently accepted medical use in the United States; and abuse may lead to moderate or low physical dependence or high psychological dependence. Examples include Tylenol, Codeine, Ketamine, Benzphetamine and Anabolic steroids.
Scheduling a drug requires manufacturers and distributors to not only verify that a practitioner, like a veterinarian, is licensed but that they are also authorized to receive a controlled substance. This action allows for more checks in an ordering system, to ensure the proper address for delivery and receipt of a controlled substance, often requiring the practitioner themselves to sign for the product.
Scheduling further requires practitioners to take steps to minimize theft and diversion, including accurate record-keeping, limiting staff access to the product, and ensuring it is stored in a secure location.
Xylazine is a growing issue across the Commonwealth. In 2017, xylazine contributed to 90 overdose deaths and that total rose to 575 overdose deaths across 30 counties in 2021 – an increase of over 600 percent in just 5 years. It’s also becoming increasingly prevalent in Philadelphia – in 2021, the City of Philadelphia reported that 90 percent of street opioid samples contained xylazine.
Philadelphia Councilwoman Quetcy Lozada thanked Shapiro for scheduling these drugs. “To the people of Kensington, until we see an improvement in quality of life in this community, we will not stop fighting,” she added.
When asked whether he supports safe injection sites, Shapiro responded forcefully, “I do not support safe injection sites,” as he received applause from members of the audience.
“Across the country and here in Pennsylvania we are seeing an alarming increase in the number of overdose deaths in which xylazine was a contributing factor,” said Bogen. “Our focus remains on harm reduction strategies and helping people get treatment for substance use disorders. At the same time, we need to take action to protect people from xylazine that is increasingly found in the drug supply.”