Luzerne County’s Drug and Alcohol Department recently distributed thousands of test strips that can be used to detect Fentanyl and Xylazine — with more to come, said county Drug and Alcohol Administrator Ryan Hogan.
That’s in addition to Naloxone opioid overdose antidotes.
Hogan said this supply was possible because his agency successfully applied last fall to become a Pennsylvania Overdose Prevention Program hub to help get these “harm reduction tools” into the hands of providers and citizens.
Set up through the state’s Commission on Crime and Delinquency and Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, the program covers the cost of testing strips and Naloxone antidotes, Hogan said.
“We jumped on the opportunity because it’s another way to streamline access to some of these lifesaving tools at no cost to taxpayers,” Hogan said.
In a monthly division report supplied to county council in January, Hogan said his department has distributed the following through participation in the program to date in Luzerne and Wyoming County, which also is covered by the agency: 348 Narcan 4 mg Naloxone kits; 299 Kloxxado 8 mg Naloxone kits; 4,037 Fentanyl testing strips; and 3,878 Xylazine testing strips.
The department is awaiting shipment of approximately 2,000 more overdose-antidote kits and another 2,000 test strips, he said.
Any county residents can request the kits and testing strips, including substance users, their family and friends, businesses and agencies, Hogan said. Requests should be emailed to Hogan at [email protected].
There’s more public awareness of Fentanyl — a powerful synthetic opioid nearly 100 times more potent than morphine — but many are unfamiliar with Xylazine, which is on the rise here and nationally, Hogan said.
Xylazine is a veterinary-level, animal sedative and not an opioid like heroin and Fentanyl, Hogan said.
People are illegally ingesting this drug to help ease symptoms related to opioid withdrawal or to combine it with Fentanyl or other opioids to prolong the high, he said.
“The unfortunate side effect is it causes a lot of severe skin infections and abscises of skin and blood disorders,” Hogan said. “Some of the skin infections at the injection site can be pretty severe, and it leads to a lot of hospitalizations.”
Often referred to as “tranq,” Xylazine is increasingly found in non-prescription drug samples across the state and nation, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
Xylazine is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in humans because it depresses the central nervous system, leading to drowsiness, amnesia, slowed breathing and heart rate and dangerously low blood pressure levels, the state said.
Skin ulcers and other wounds linked to Xylazine must be appropriately treated to prevent serious infections and amputations, the state said.
Photographs of Xylazine-prompted wounds and amputations can be easily found on the internet.
Luzerne County’s Coroner’s Office started highlighting the emergence of Xylazine in drug overdose deaths in 2021, when the substance was present in 29 of the 208 county overdose deaths, or 13.9%.
This percentage has increased since then.
Toxicology reports found the presence of Xylazine in 14.9% of county overdose deaths in 2022 (26 of 174) and 20% of deaths last year (29 of 145), according to the coroner’s office.
Hogan’s department has been working with partners in close contact with high-risk populations, including the homeless, to make the test strips available.
“Most people don’t realize they’re taking a substance cut with Fentanyl or Xylazine,” Hogan said. “These strips allow them to test before they ingest.”
Saving lives is the ultimate goal of Hogan’s department, he said.
“We can’t treat people if they’re not alive,” he said.
He is confident years of county investment in overdose antidotes and other initiatives have contributed to a decrease in drug overdose deaths.
The county’s 208 drug overdose deaths in 2021 surpassed the previous record high of 180 deaths in 2020.
In 2022, there were 174 overdose deaths in the county, and the number further decreased to 145 in 2023, coroner statistics show.
“That’s a testament to continued education and outreach and the work of a lot of partners,” Hogan said.
The higher-dosage Kloxxado 8 mg Naloxone kits were added in response to reports that a second dose of the 4 mg one was sometimes necessary to combat Fentanyl overdoses, Hogan said. He emphasized there is no risk if the 8 mg kit is administered in situations when it is unclear which one is needed.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.