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Police in Edmonton, Red Deer find increased use of animal tranquilizer in local drug supplies


A powerful tranquilizer used on animals has been found in illicit drugs being used by people in the city, says the Edmonton Police Service.

EPS confirmed to CTV News Edmonton they're seeing the increased use of xylazine — a tranquilizer most often used as a sedative and anesthetic for horses — in the city's drug supply.

Staff Sgt. David Paton of the EPS drug and gang enforcement unit told CTV News Edmonton the current drug supply in the city is being processed using a variety of different cutting agents, including xylazine.

“We’re seeing so many different variants of fentanyl where they’re adding in various adulterants such as xylazine, such as other fentanyl analogues," Paton said. "You never know what you’re going to get.”

RCMP in Red Deer issued a warning on Friday after seeing an increase in emergency calls for drug-related overdoses in the community. They believe the higher number of calls is due to the animal tranquilizer in the drugs people are now using in the central Alberta city.

“With the mixing of illicit drugs, there is an elevated risk involved with accidental overdose, posing extreme risk to human death,” RCMP said Friday in a media release.

While warnings are being issued over the sedative, Marliss Taylor, the director of streetworks and health services at Edmonton's Boyle Street Community Services, says while the practise of mixing xylazine with drugs isn't new, it’s hard to know how much of the tranquilizer is being used without a robust drug checking system.

“Right now, what we have is a cornucopia of drugs that are mixed together and we don’t know what they are or in what quantities,” said Taylor, adding the levels of xylazine found in Edmonton may have been higher in 2019 than they are now.

When benzodiazepines, xylazine and similar drugs are involved, Taylor said street teams are finding it's taking people as long as an hour or more to regain consciousness after their overdoses are reversed with naloxone and they start breathing again.

“You want people to become conscious at the time you reverse their overdose so that they have cognition again, that they are awake and able to talk to you, and you can make sure that they are alright," she said.

Emergency medical services responses to opioid-related calls in Edmonton this year reached a record high of 223 calls in a one-week period at the end of July, but Taylor doesn’t believe xylazine specifically is to blame.

“It is such a dangerous mixture of anything right now in the drug supply,” Taylor said, "Adding xylazine or taking it away probably would not have made any difference in terms of the numbers that we’re seeing.”

CTV News Edmonton reached out to Alberta’s ministry of mental health and addictions for comment, but it had not responded by the time of publication.

Just over 800 Albertans died from drug poisonings in the first five months of 2023, with 96 per cent of those deaths believed to have involved opioids, according to Alberta government data. Top Stories

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