"We summarize longitudinal, recent, and geographically specific evidence describing how xylazine is increasingly implicated in overdose deaths in jurisdictions spanning all major US regions and link it to detailed ethnographic observations of its use in Philadelphia open-air narcotics markets. Xylazine presence in overdose deaths grew exponentially during the observed period, rising nearly 20-fold between 2015 and 2020. Whereas the most recent national data from the State Unintentional Drug Overdose Reporting System characterized the level of xylazine-present overdoses in 2019 (Kariisa, 2021), we found that the prevalence increased by nearly 50% from 2019 to 2020 alone, indicating a need for more recent data to guide the public health response. Furthermore, we find that even looking at only 10 jurisdictions a greater number of xylazine-present overdose deaths were seen in 2020 (854), than the previous study looking at 38 states in 2019 (826) (Kariisa, 2021), implying a very fast rate of growth nationally.
"Xylazine prevalence was observed earliest and at the highest magnitude in the Northeast, and may be spreading west, in a pattern similar to the trajectory of illicitly-manufactured fentanyls in recent years (Shover et al., 2020). This similarity may not be incidental, as an analysis of the co-occurrence of fentanyl and xylazine indicates a strong ecological link, with fentanyl nearly universally implicated in xylazine-present overdose deaths. Further, ethnographic data among PWID suggests that the use of xylazine as an illicit drug additive may predominantly serve as a response to the short duration of fentanyl. By ‘giving fentanyl legs’—offering improved duration of effect—the addition of xylazine may confer a competitive market advantage for illicit opioid formulations that contain it, as it remedies one of the most commonly expressed complaints that PWID hold regarding fentanyl-based street opioid formulations."
Friedman, J., Montero, F., Bourgois, P., Wahbi, R., Dye, D., Goodman-Meza, D., & Shover, C. (2022). Xylazine spreads across the US: A growing component of the increasingly synthetic and polysubstance overdose crisis. Drug and alcohol dependence, 233, 109380. doi.org/10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2022.109380.