THUNDER BAY — An animal sedative is being found in more and more street drugs across the city.
Xylazine, which is used by vets for sedating large animals such as horses and cattle, is showing up more and more in local supply, according to NorWest Community Health Centres.
When used inappropriately, the drug can cause decreased pain, as well as decreased consciousness, heart rate, and lower levels of breathing and oxygen in your body.
Kyle Arnold, a harm reduction support worker with the safer supply program at NorWest CHC, said another issue is the high risk of wounds forming, which can become large and severely infected.
"Wounds are a large concern because we've seen them go from the size of a dime to bigger than a hand and they're open flesh wounds.
"It's showing tissue and all sorts of the insides of the person. It becomes extremely infected and swells up. It can make it really hard for the person to receive medical care because, obviously, they're living on the streets and vicariously in different housing. The infection is really difficult to treat."
Since the drug is not an opioid, it won't respond when Naloxone kits are used on individuals who might be overdosing.
Nicole Fieduna is the consumption and treatment services coordinator at the city's safe injection site.
She said Path 525, a free drug-checking site for those using illicit substances, has also seen an increase in Xylazine being included in street drugs.
"We can see the trend with Xylazine coming into the supply. It's something that's cut into other drugs, so it's not something people are necessarily seeking it out. It's being added to increase supply."
Fieduna said it's important for users and their family and friends to be aware of what dangers might be in illicit drugs.
"When we speak to our clients, we have the opportunity to always educate, and we're very open with our clients, so they're aware. I think it's more so a sense of the community doesn't understand."
Path 525 is open seven days a week - from 10 am to 6 pm.
"On Thursdays we have hours from 6 pm to 8 pm, where we do just our drug-checking services. And I highly recommend that everyone come in - it's anonymous and confidential. It's very fast," she said.
Both Arnold and Fieduna recommend people download the Lifeguard app, which can give users alerts if a local drug supply is confirmed to be tainted with other harmful substances. The app also features other resources like CPR, How-tos for Naloxone kits, and more.