The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration considers xylazine a major threat, especially when it's mixed with the already deadly drug fentanyl.
Lawmakers are looking to resolve the issue, but the industry for which xylazine was intended has some concerns about potential solutions to stop illegal use of the drug.
Veterinarians across the state are speaking up as state and national lawmakers look to restrict access to xylazine, a common sedative and muscle relaxer used in veterinary medicine.
Veterinarian Carie Telgen has been working with large animals her entire life.
“I grew up on a dairy farm in Vermont and went onto veterinary school at Perdue University in Indiana,” Telgen said.
Right now, she does consulting work for dairy farms up and down the east coast, but spent more than a decade before that in private practice as a veterinarian, work that often involves the use of xylazine.
“We use it for common procedures such as cesarean sections, abdominal surgeries on cattle,” Telgen said.
But the substance has found itself in the crosshairs of lawmakers in Washington, D.C. and Albany. The DEA reports xylazine was discovered in nearly a quarter of fentanyl powder seized last year.
“It’s really important that we designate xylazine as a schedule III depressant controlled substance so law enforcement are able to go after these drug dealers and get these drugs off the street,” said state Senator James Skoufis.
But the New York State Veterinary Medical Society says that would be disastrous.
“It changes the supply chain," said Tim Atkinson of the New York State Veterinary Medical Society. "It could often lead to disruptions in that, shortages, and it could definitely lead to an increase in price.”
“This is what is used in the veterinarian form, it is a liquid form," Telgen explained. "And the concern we have as veterinarians is this liquid form is not the issue. It’s the powder.”
There is also extensive documentation involved with the use of a controlled substance, adding to a veterinarian's already heavy workload.
“There is additional paperwork as far as having a DEA license, that’s nominal. We’re far more concerned with the animal welfare association with this,” Telgen said.
She said veterinarians are in the business of helping animals, which often results in helping people so they don’t want to stand in the way.
“As contributing members of society, we’re obviously concerned with what xylazine is doing when mixed with fentanyl and other illicit drugs,” Telgen said.
On the federal level, congressional leaders are eying another proposal that could be a compromise of sorts: Equipping law enforcement with the tools needed to better monitor illicit use of xylazine, while protecting a veterinarian’s use.
“The solution is really to work effectively, would have to take into the account of the veterinarian,” Atkinson said.
Skoufis said he was not aware of some of the concerns posed by veterinarians, and he’d be open to something that would protect their use of the drug, something similar to what’s being mulled over by lawmakers in Washington.