How to Test Your Cocaine and Other Drugs for Xylazine

Unlike fentanyl, a xylazine overdose cannot be reversed through Narcan, making testing paramount to survival.

May 17, 2023 at 1:37 pm
click to enlarge To sign up for SOAR's deadly drug batch alerts for Southwest, Ohio, text "SOAR" to 513-447-6276. - Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock
To sign up for SOAR's deadly drug batch alerts for Southwest, Ohio, text "SOAR" to 513-447-6276.
Xylazine, or "tranq dope," a drug with "flesh-eating" effects, has been found laced into the wider illegal drug supply in Ohio and across the country. An Ohio organization that combats overdoses is now offering ways to find out if your drugs are cut with the deadly "zombie" drug.

The SOAR Initiative (SOAR stands for Safety, Outreach, Autonomy, Respect) alerts subscribers via text or app about deadly batches of drugs, often laced with unknown amounts of fentanyl and most recently xylazine. Along with fentanyl test strips, SOAR announced on May 16 it will now start distributing xylazine test strips to keep those who use drugs safe.

What is xylazine?

Xylazine is a non-opioid veterinary tranquilizer meant for sedating animals. It’s a central nervous system depressant that can cause drowsiness and amnesia, along with slowed breathing, heart rate and blood pressure. The drug is known to cause scaly wounds on all parts of the body, known as eschar, giving xylazine the "zombie drug" nickname. When left untreated, eschar can lead to amputation of the limbs.

In a previous interview with CityBeat, Jessica Collier, a harm reduction and outreach specialist at SOAR, said she's seen the up-close effects of xylazine.

“You can snort, smoke and inject and still get these sores anywhere on your body,” Collier told CityBeat. “Wound care is super, super important, but there’s not a lot of places out there that offer it."
Unlike fentanyl, a xylazine overdose cannot be reversed through the nasal spray naloxone (name brand Narcan), making testing paramount.

How to test your drugs for xylazine

SOAR lists four steps for testing drugs for xylazine in its Instagram post:
  1. "Add sterile water to your empty baggie or cooker you just prepped and mix well! (Use about 5ml or 10 drops of water per 5-10 mg of substances.)"
  2. "Dip the strip in water wavy lines first, for 15 seconds."
  3. "Let strip sit for at least five minutes."
  4. "Check the strip – one line is positive for xylazine and two lines is negative."
Casual drug users and those struggling with substance abuse disorder are all encouraged to test any illicit drug before use for both fentanyl and xylazine. You can order one xylazine test strip when you order five fentanyl test strips from SOAR by clicking here. Test strips are free and there is no requirement to provide a name for the order. Packages can be discreetly delivered with no return label.

Because of its limited supply, SOAR encourages those looking for fentanyl test strips in Hamilton County to first submit an order through the county by texting "FTS" to 22999.

Overdose deaths on the decline, but still high overall

Harm Reduction Ohio (HRO), an organization that equips people to fight overdose deaths and aggregates overdose data, has forecasted that overdose deaths might actually be on a slight decline in the state. HRO pulls overdose data from coroners all over the state, and investigations into some deaths can take time, meaning it's still too soon to say exactly how many Ohioans died of an overdose in 2022. Data from HRO shows that around 5,300 Ohioans died of an overdose in 2021. Ohio had the fifth highest number of overdose deaths in the country in 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Currently, Xylazine is not a federally controlled substance, meaning it's easier to obtain and difficult to track.The high overall overdose death rate in Ohio is largely caused by the high level of unknown drugs like fentanyl and xylazine laced into common street and party drugs like cocaine, heroine and pressed pills, according to Harm Reduction Ohio.

"Most people don’t know that Ohio has drug use levels that are below the national average. Our state’s overdose epidemic has been driven by dangerous adulterants coming into Ohio’s drug supply earlier than in other states," HRO writes on its site.

HRO also pulls illicit drug testing data from crime labs across the state, showing at least 18% of the state's cocaine supply was laced with an unknown level of fentanyl in 2022, the highest adulteration level among all illicit drugs.

Data on the level of xylazine found in Ohio's illicit drug supply is not yet available, but coroners across the country are starting to see more people killed by the drug, prompting the Biden administration to designate fentanyl adulterated or associated with xylazine as an emerging threat to the United States in April.
To sign up for SOAR's deadly drug batch alerts, text "SOAR" to 513-447-6276. Subscribers located in a different area of the state can find their region's corresponding phone number in the graphic below.
click to enlarge To sign up for deadly batch alerts, text "SOAR" to your region's corresponding number. - Photo: The SOAR Initiative
To sign up for deadly batch alerts, text "SOAR" to your region's corresponding number.

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