New animal tranquilizer making its way to Michiana drug users

NOW: New animal tranquilizer making its way to Michiana drug users

BERRIEN COUNTY, Mich.-- The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is warning against medetomidine, an animal tranquilizer, responsible for three overdose deaths in the state so far, with one in Berrien County.

It's making its way into the illicit drug supply, and is similar to the animal tranquilizer xylazine, often called "tranq," especially when mixed with other drugs.

"We still really don't have a great solution for how to reverse a xylazine overdose, and now, there's a new drug," said Berrien County Health Officer Guy Miller.

Medetomidine is potentially more potent, and it's not meant for use on humans. However, because it is used in veterinary medicine, it is less regulated than something like fentanyl.

"It's meant to be a sedative if you were going to get your pet spayed or neutered," Miller said.

Like xylazine, it depresses the central nervous system.

"It slows down your heart rate, your blood pressure," Miller said. "That can cause you to stop breathing, which can result in death unfortunately."

It's raising alarm bells in harm reduction circles, like at Benton Harbor crisis center for addiction, Carol's Hope.

"It's absolutely scary because we have all the other things we have to be concerned about," said Katrina Marie Rice Williams, Carol's Hope peer recovery coach. "You know, with the fentanyl, the xylazine, and now, that new drug. You don't know what you're getting into."

Test strips to detect the drug don't yet exist, and naloxone or Narcan, which can reverse an opioid overdose, won't work for medetomidine.

"Almost all the time they find this medetomidine drug in someone's system, it is mixed with other drugs," Miller said.

"Through things like the meth and the crack and the coke and the heroin. It's kind of put into by whoever's making it, or however it's going down the line," Williams said.

Medetomidine is most often found mixed with fentanyl. That's why Narcan is still the number one line of defense for someone experiencing a drug overdose.

"The advice would be yeah if you’re experimenting with illicit drugs supply, be aware it’s out there. Take it slow, go at a less dose than maybe you typically would do, we don’t want to see any overdoses," Miller said. "We don’t want to see any overdose deaths here in Berrien County as a result of this drug. We have already had one and that’s too many.”

Harm reduction can be controversial, but at the end of the day, health experts adviseto avoid illicit drugs, of course, but say if you are going to use, don't use alone.

"If you're going to use, at least have something there, for someone to save your life," Williams said.

Again, if someone is found with medetomidine in their system, there are probably other drugs present too, so Narcan is still the best first line of defense.

In Berrien County, Narcan can be accessed for free at the Niles Courthouse, Berrien County Sheriff's department, Berrien County Jail, and Corewell Health Center for Better Wellness.

It can also be purchased at most pharmacies.

The state of Michigan also offers free Narcan that can be sent to individual homes. To learn more, click here.

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