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An animal tranquilizer is showing up in illegal drugs in Cape region

Courtesy AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod

A local nonprofit is working to educate people about a dangerous drug infiltrating the local street drugs in recent years.

Xylazine is an animal tranquilizer, and it’s commonly mixed in with fentanyl.

Assistant Director of Harm Reduction Services at the AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod Eliza Morrison said the drug started showing up on the Cape and Islands about two years ago.

Participants began approaching Morrison with skin infections and were unaware what was causing them.

Morrison said staff are able to offer education about xylazine and how it can lead to the wounds.

“When we were telling them, 'There is this substance that’s made its way potentially into the drug supply here, here are some of the effects it might have,' they would say, ‘I have all of those things.’”

Xylazine isn’t safe for human use, and people can develop severe wounds if they inject it.

Morrison said over the last year her group has stepped up distribution of wound care kits and started teaching people how to care for their injuries.

“Because we know that our folks don’t always feel comfortable, because of stigma, engaging in medical care, we really have become that health care point-of-contact for folks who are experiencing these wounds."

Since wounds can become unmanageable, the group encourages people using their services to engage in additional care.

The presence of xylazine in the local drug supply coincides with fentanyl being detected in other substances besides opioids, including stimulants like cocaine and crystal meth.

“It has really shifted. It's even different than it was a year ago,” AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod CEO Dan Gates said of the trend.

The group recently sent Narcan and fentanyl test strips to Nantucket, where xylazine has been showing up in the island’s drug supply.

The group hopes to have test strips for xylazine in the near future.

Brian Engles is an author, a Cape Cod local, and a producer for Morning Edition.