Study: Using Narcan in Xylazine Overdoses

June 3, 2024

A big ‘take-home’ message is that we want to make sure people are administered naloxone as a life-saving treatment. When xylazine first came on the scene, there was a lot of talk about how it wouldn’t respond to naloxone. Our data suggest otherwise, and we don’t want people to not administer naloxone because they suspect someone has xylazine in their system.”

University of North Carolina associate professor of psychiatry and pharmacology, Dr. Zoe McElligott, who is also the senior author of a new study suggesting that naloxone (Narcan) can help treat the deadly respiratory side effects caused by xylazine/fentanyl overdoses.

Why It Matters:

A recent study by researchers at the University of North Carolina (UNC) offers new perspective regarding how we look at treating xylazine/fentanyl overdoses. While the primary results of the study show how xylazine (an animal tranquilizer used in veterinary medicine) affects brain chemistry similarly to fentanyl (an opioid), an added discovery includes news on Narcan. According to their findings, Narcan, an over-the-counter medication used to reverse the effects of opioid overdoses, could help save the lives of people who OD on xylazine mixed with fentanyl and even when xylazine is administered alone.” This marks a change in our understanding of treatment protocol for xylazine overdoses. Reportedly found in 48 of the 50 states, xyalzine-laced fentanyl presents a growing substance abuse concern throughout the United States.

More Context:

Xylazine (aka Tranq) heightens the high of fentanyl and increases withdrawal symptoms. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) describes fentanyl as50 times more potent than heroin.” The medley of the two drugs create a deadly combination, which suppresses the body’s respiratory system.

The research conducted by Dr. McElligott and her colleagues at UNC suggests that the chemical components of xyalzine may affect the nervous system differently than previously understood, by acting more like an opioid at a cellular level even though xylazine is not an opioid. Further study “could have big implications for future scheduling recommendations for xylazine and how clinicians might treat patients in the future.”

Lawmakers continue to discuss regulating xylazine (independent of illegal substances like fentanyl), and Pennsylvania legislators criminalized the recreational use of xylazine just this month.

Read More:

Read the study HERE.

Scientists Discover Surprising Details about Xylazine in Combination with Fentanyl

“Naloxone is a medication that can reverse an overdose that is caused by an opioid drug (i.e., prescription pain medication, heroin, or illicit fentanyl). When administered during an overdose, naloxone blocks the effects of opioids on the brain and restores breathing within 2 to 3 minutes” (Pennsylvania Department of Health).

Image Credit: Photo by NEXT Distro on Unsplash

by Aimee Roberts, based in Virginia