Montreal’s regional health authority (DRSP) is warning about a new and dangerous drug circulating in the city.
Xylazine, also known as “tranq” or “Zombie drug,” is an animal tranquillizer used in veterinary medicine that is not meant for humans to consume.
However, it can be cut with opioids such as fentanyl, leading to breathing issues, irregular heartbeat, and overdose.
A preliminary report from the DRSP released on Thursday shows xylazine was detected in 5 per cent of 300 urine samples collected in Montreal last fall.
The health authority is now calling for healthcare professionals and community organizations to be vigilant and ramp up response efforts.
That’s easier said than done, says Jean-Francois Mary, executive director of CACTUS Montreal. a community-based harm reduction organization.
“The fact that we don’t have access to real-time data is a major barrier to putting in place appropriate actions,” said Mary.
CACTUS Montreal offers drug testing services, but so far, there’s been no trace of xylazine.
“It’s actually a substance that we cannot usually detect in a routine screening,” said Mary, adding xylazine must represent more than 5 per cent of a sample to be detected.
An overdose on either xylazine or fentanyl can look the same with one key difference: Naloxone, a fast-acting drug which can temporarily reverse an opioid overdose, does not work with xylazine.
“Sometimes we witness that Naloxone doesn’t bring back totally the person, so the person remains unconscious … and we need for the person to be taken care of by paramedics,” said Mary.
While the drug is only now being detected in Montreal, Canadian authorities first found xylazine on the illicit drug market in 2012.
“We knew it was coming,” said Mary, adding the substance has been prevalent in Puerto Rico for years.
“Then, at some point two years ago, it popped up in the fentanyl supply in Philadelphia, and then it spread to the wall of the East Coast, and then it spread to B.C., and then it spread to Toronto. So then we knew that next was Montreal,” said Mary.
Mary says governments need to invest more in coroner services and drug screening to cut down on long testing delays so that those on the front lines of the drug epidemic can keep people safe.