A group of Bucks County lawmakers held a press conference in September to announce they were working on bills to fight increased crime. One issue they focused on was the increase in drug addiction and overdoses.

This week, state Rep. Kristin Marcell’s bill to require the state Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) to educate people about xylazine, dubbed “tranq,” passed out of committee and will be voted on by the House.

“Over the past several years, law enforcement officers and public health professionals have detected an increase in the prevalence of the illicit use of xylazine, an animal tranquilizer – or ‘tranq’ – in street drugs used in the commonwealth,” Marcell said. “In fact, about half of all Pennsylvania counties saw cases where illicit use of xylazine caused a death in 2021. Worse, 90 percent of the opioids sampled by the city of Philadelphia showed xylazine in 2021.”

The federal Department of Drug Enforcement has released an alert about the dangers of this new deadly drug mix.

“Xylazine is making the deadliest drug threat our country has ever faced, fentanyl, even deadlier,” said Administrator Anne Milgram. “DEA has seized xylazine and fentanyl mixtures in 48 of 50 states. The DEA Laboratory System is reporting that in 2022, approximately 23 percent of fentanyl powder and 7 percent of fentanyl pills seized by the DEA contained xylazine.”

Despite the dangers, most Delaware Valley residents are unaware of the threat.

“Too few people are aware of this drug’s existence. Increased public awareness of the impact of the illicit use of xylazine can help the effort to protect our residents,” Marcell added.

Under Marcell’s HB 1690, DDAP would partner with healthcare providers, community-based health centers, and hospitals to educate Pennsylvanians on the dangers of human use of xylazine.

DDAP would also create brochures and other materials with information about xylazine and how it affects the human body, how to discuss the dangers with others, and other materials needed to raise awareness of the risks “tranq” poses.

Drug dealers use xylazine, designed as a horse tranquilizer, as a cutting agent for heroin and fentanyl, which people then use. Those who use xylazine tend to get wounds that do not readily heal.

Bucks County Sheriff Fred Harran has been at the forefront of raising awareness of xylazine. He reports an increase in people being arrested with gaping wounds from “tranq.” As a result, these suspects need to go to the hospital rather than jail, which ties up law enforcement officers who must stand guard rather than patrol the streets. That is particularly problematic for smaller departments with fewer officers.

Harran said he supports Marcell’s bill.

“Any education is good. People should be aware of it. It’s definitely positive.”

As its illicit use has grown, xylazine has attracted the attention of media and public health officials. It made national news when the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy warned the nation of its dangerous use.

Xylazine-positive overdose deaths have increased tenfold in the Southern U.S. from 2020-21, sevenfold in the Western U.S., and fivefold in the Midwest. The U.S. Department of Health recently temporarily scheduled xylazine as a controlled substance.