Governor Shapiro announces first steps to temper the state’s opioid crisis. Starts by targeting tranq.
The administration will classify xylazine, used as a relaxant for large animals, as a Schedule III controlled substance.
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In February, newly-elected City Councilmember Quetcy Lozada brought forward resolutions to steer the city’s attention to Kensington.
Two months later, she joined Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro on a relatively relaxed Kensington afternoon on Tuesday, April 18, to announce the administration’s first efforts to combat the Commonwealth’s opioid epidemic, targeting the animal tranquilizer that’s still relatively unknown in the drug scene.
Xylazine, or Tranq, is a potent anesthetic used by veterinarians on large animals to facilitate handling, perform diagnostics and surgical procedures, and even act as local anesthesia, according to the Department of Justice.
But in Kensington, officials said, tranq has circulated and swept the drug market for its ability to extend and enhance the effects when mixed with fentanyl, prompting the administration to classify or “schedule” the relaxant as a Schedule III controlled substance.
The Department of Durg Enforcement and Administration defines a Schedule III substance as “drugs with a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence,” and although it doesn’t pose immediate harm, the classification enables law enforcement to intervene if it's used for purposes other than it was intended.
“It's literally used on large animals like horses, and it's never been approved for use with humans. Dealers have started to do this because cutting fentanyl with xylazine extends the high,” Shapiro noted.
The administration’s decision allows the Commonwealth to require the drug to be stored in locked facilities and gives law enforcement a chance to charge individuals who are in possession of it. Manufacturers must also add additional inspections to ensure the drug gets to its intended party.
Several state and city officials, such as Acting Secretary of Drug and Alcohol Programs Dr. Latika Davis-Jones, Executive Deputy Secretary Kristen Rodack, joined Lozada and Shapiro on Tuesday.
“We are right here in the eye of a storm over the past two years in Philadelphia, Xylazine has contributed to more than 557 deaths. To put that into perspective, in 2020, Xylazine was a contributing factor in 377 deaths across the entire state of Pennsylvania,” said Davis-Jones, the Acting Secretary of the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs.
Those figures are a tremendous jump from 2017, when — according to data provided by the state — Xylazine contributed to 90 deaths related to overdose.
Davis-Jones said she hopes new measures introduced by the administration could fuel efforts to treat addiction.
“We know that a substance use disorder, just like the governor said, is a chronic relapsing disease. It's a medical condition. It's not a crime. And it's not a moral failing. The longer we keep people alive, the greater the chance we have to get people into the care and treatment that they need and deserve,” she said.
Officials present did not confirm whether the administration is bracing for another increase that could elevate the current classification to Schedule II or Schedule I.
Kensington is a region battered by new and returning drugs in its open-air drug market ecosystem. And while the city has attempted to combat the opioid crisis through a number of police raids, net positive results don’t yield in the area where the market operates.
Lozada, who for years worked under former Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez to sound the alarm on what they described as an issue that was years in the making, was happy to see the Commonwealth’s focus on her district.
“That would only have been possible as a result of partnerships across the board, federal, city, and state. And people talking in political circles about what Xylazine is doing here in Kensington,” Lozada told AL DÍA shortly after the announcement.
Lozada, who in February introduced a resolution to hold committee hearings on the opioid crisis in Kensington, was relieved to know that her efforts were welcomed. The resolution passed unanimously in council chambers.
For other Kensington residents in the room, the administration’s announcement is a step in the right direction but, indeed, a far cry from the quality of life concerns in the neighborhood.
Jasmine Velez, a community organizer for Kensington Corridor Trust, shared that while she was glad to see renewed attention on Kensington, there were lingering quality-of-life concerns that remain unresolved and unaddressed.
“It’s a step in the right direction, but we can’t forget the community member aspect as well. Recognizing that there are folks dying in the street, but recognizing that there are folks who have to walk over those bodies as well,” Velez underlined.
“Not to sound grim, but it’s the reality of folks in this community.”
Velez, who ran unsuccessfully against State Representative José Giral for District 180, hopes the national focus will inspire the city to listen to community residents.
“It gives me some hope. In the sense that there is some conversation happening…but I would’ve liked to see the mayor here. I would’ve liked to see the District Attorney here. Not everyone is where they need to be, and I hope this will put pressure on folks.”
Neither Mayor Jim Kenney or Philly District Attorney Larry Krasner were present at today’s announcement.