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White House releases plan to reduce xylazine-fentanyl deaths

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The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy outlined a plan Tuesday to reduce xylazine-positive drug deaths by 15% in most of the country.

The plan focuses on testing; data collection; evidence-based prevention, harm reduction and treatment; supply reduction; and scheduling and research. The goal is a 15% reduction – compared to 2022 as the baseline year – of xylazine positive drug poisoning deaths in at least three of four U.S. census regions by 2025.

Tuesday’s announcement comes after the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy designated fentanyl combined with xylazine as an emerging threat in April. At the time, White House Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Dr. Rahul Gupta asked for $11 million to help create a strategy.

Xylazine is a tranquilizer approved by the Food and Drug Administration for veterinary use. It is not approved for human use. Fentanyl is a potent synthetic opioid.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the monthly percentage of illegally manufactured fentanyl-involved deaths with xylazine detected increased 276% – from 2.9% to 10.9% – between January 2019 and June 2022.

“Since we announced the emerging drug threat earlier this year, we’ve been working tirelessly to create the best plan of attack to address this dangerous and deadly substance head-on,” Gupta said in a statement. “Now, with this National Response Plan, we are launching coordinated efforts across all of government to ensure we are using every lever we have to protect public health and public safety, and save lives. This will be an all-hands-on-deck effort.”

The Drug Enforcement Administration reported that between 2020 and 2021, laboratory identifications of xylazine increased in all four U.S. census regions, with the largest increases in the south (193%) and in the west (112%). Xylazine-positive overdose deaths increased by 1,127% in the south, 750% in the west and more than 500% in the Midwest. In the northeast, such deaths increased by more than 100%.

U.S. officials reported 107,735 overdose deaths between August 2021 and August 2022 from drug poisonings, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 66% of those deaths involved synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.

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