As a deadly “Tranq” drug epidemic surges in Pennsylvania, legislators are introducing legislation to combat the crisis.
Tranq, an animal tranquilizer officially called Xylazine, is being laced into street narcotics like fentanyl.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is warning the American public of a sharp increase in the trafficking of fentanyl mixed with xylazine.
“It is creating one of the deadliest drug threats our country has ever faced,” said Rep. Kristin Marcell (R-Bucks). “This powerful sedative is decimating neighborhoods throughout the Commonwealth, but especially in Philadelphia.”
The bill package will be introduced during Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week in Pennsylvania to draw attention to the importance of awareness and education in combatting this problem.
Xylazine and fentanyl drug mixtures place users at a higher risk of suffering a fatal drug poisoning. People who inject drug mixtures containing xylazine also can develop severe wounds, including necrosis—the rotting of human tissue—that may lead to amputation.
Several Republican lawmakers plan to introduce bills that will address different parts of the problem.
Rep. Marcell plans to introduce legislation that would require the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs to engage in a public awareness campaign to educate the public about this growing threat.
Roughly half of the state’s counties saw cases where illicit use of xylazine caused a death in 2021. Worse, 90% of the opioids sampled by the City of Philadelphia showed xylazine in 2021.
“Yet too few people are aware of this drug’s existence,” Marcell said. “Increased public awareness of the impact of the illicit use of xylazine can help the effort to protect our residents.”
Rep. Joe Hogan (R-Bucks) will sponsor legislation that would formally require the Department of Health to actively monitor the introduction and growth of new drugs on the street.
Information would be gathered from all available sources, including our federal partners, local departments of health, coroners and mortality review teams, and existing departmental advisory committees that include service providers who interact daily with those who are struggling with addiction.
Xylazine was only scheduled as a controlled substance by the Secretary of Health in June 2023, which is several years after Philadelphia began detecting it in large portions of samples of heroin and fentanyl.
“We need to re-structure our Commonwealth’s information-gathering apparatus to learn about new drugs entering the streets quickly,” Hogan said. “In the fight to help those with addictions, time lost results in lives lost.
Rep. Craig Williams’ (R-Delaware/Chester) legislation would establish a statewide opioid task force to disrupt drug trafficking.
Overdose deaths have skyrocketed in recent years. According to the Pennsylvania Overdose Information Network, there were 4,703 overdoses in the Commonwealth in 2022. Teen overdose deaths have doubled over the past three years.
This increase in fatalities, which shows no signs of abating, can largely be attributed to the rise of the unlawful sale and usage of fentanyl, an opiate-based drug that is 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin.
“We need to establish a statewide opioid task force that will serve as an intelligence-gathering and information-sharing resource for law enforcement agencies across this Commonwealth,” Williams said.
The task force would work and collaborate with prosecutors, county drug task forces, and state and local law enforcement agencies; collect and analyze drug overdose, arrest and drug seizure data to identify drug trafficking networks and discern which communities are being impacted by drug-related activity or violence; and direct resources to counties, communities and local law enforcement agencies when a need arises.
“By establishing a framework for the sharing of information, intelligence and resources, this legislation will greatly assist law enforcement agencies in disrupting trafficking of harmful drugs and prosecuting those who profit from destroying our families and communities,” Williams said.
The Commonwealth recently entered into a historic settlement with manufacturers and distributors of opioids, which will result in over $1 billion being made available to state and local governments for opioid remediation. That money may be used for a wide spectrum of opioid remediation expenses, including treatment, recovery services and prevention.
Rep. Martina White (R-Philadelphia) sponsored legislation to ban the use of Opioid Settlement Fund money for publicly funded heroin injection sites.
“We cannot say we want to end drug use and at the same time fund facilities that help people continue their cycle of drug use,” White said. “The Opioid Settlement fund must be used for prevention and treatment efforts to keep people off drugs in the first place and to help those who want to end their addiction.”
A fifth bill, sponsored by Rep. Andrew Kuzma (R-Allegheny/Washington), aims to improve Opioid Settlement Fund transparency.
Under the trust’s order, 85% of the settlement funds that come to Pennsylvania are distributed directly to counties and local governments. While this ensures funding for opioid treatment and abatement makes it into all of our communities across the state, it also means that funding may be used in a variety of different ways.
“In order to provide transparency into how Pennsylvania’s opioid settlement funds are spent, I will be introducing legislation to require the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) to create an annual report on the use of these funds,” Kuzma said. “Counties and local governments are required to submit reports to the trust each year and my legislation will simply require DDAP to aggregate these reports.”
By reviewing how counties and local governments are putting their opioid settlement funds to use, the annual report will be useful in informing the General Assembly how to best allocate the state’s share of these dollars.
Included in this package is House Bill 1661, sponsored by Rep. Carl Metzgar (R-Somerset), to criminalize illicit possession of xylazine, with an exemption for legal veterinary use, but not make it a Schedule III controlled substance due to the risk that it will cease to be available in Pennsylvania for veterinarians to access.
Marcell will also introduce a resolution to recognize the week of Sept. 18-24 as Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week in Pennsylvania.
If you or anyone you know needs assistance with substance use, please call the Get Help Now Hotline at 1-800-662-4357 or visit https://www.pa.gov/guides/opioid-epidemic/