Officials respond to Xylazine cases arriving in South Dakota

South Dakota was one of two states that did not have a confirmed instance of xylazine found. Now that it’s here, the process of prevention, treatment, and enforcement begins.
Published: Jun. 4, 2023 at 8:14 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Until a few weeks ago, South Dakota was one of the final two states that hadn’t yet reported a confirmed case of Xylazine according to the DEA.

The drug, nicknamed “tranq” or “the zombie drug,” is only approved for veterinary use by the FDA as a tranquilizer for animals and has devastating effects on humans. Yet it’s still being found laced with other illicit drugs like fentanyl.

“It’s not uncommon to cut it with some kind of a powder to make their money go farther,” explained Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead. “If you give somebody a better high or think it was, even though it’s ripping their body apart, they may want that better high. As a result, we’re putting more poison into the body for the sole purpose of making more money. Greed drives the drug market.”

According to a recent study, Xylazine was found in 90% of dope samples in Philadelphia. Even while “tranq” is not as widespread in the upper-midwest as it is on either coast of the United States, numbers like these are alarming for officials and they say prevention measures need to be implemented before it’s too late.

Unlike fentanyl, the effects of xylazine cannot be reversed with Narcan, which makes it dangerous for overdoses. It also has been known to cause the skin to rot, creating sores that never heal. Xylazine can be taken in different forms as well. It can be cut with other substances to be injected, snorted, or really however the drug user wishes to use. Open sores that develop don’t always develop at the site where it was ingested, it can develop anywhere on the body. This can sometimes result in amputations of an arm or a leg. More research needs to be done to identify with certainty what about xylazine causes these sores and what can be done to reverse its effects.

“Google ‘xylazine wounds’ or ‘tranq wounds’,” urged Milstead. “Take a look at those pictures. A picture’s worth a thousand words. You’ll see why they call it the ‘zombie drug’.”

Milstead says that the approach to curbing the impact of drugs like Xylazine in our communities is “three-pronged” with prevention, treatment, and enforcement.

“We’re the enforcement end, but we also try to match up resources with people who have substance abuse disorder. Prevention and treatment are huge components. Enforcement is important, but it’s just one of the things that would help us combat this issue,” said Milstead.

One thing that South Dakota attorney general Marty Jackley recommends parents do for prevention is to talk about drugs earlier on.

“There are different chemicals out there than when we were kids and so I’ve always encouraged the DARE program to start earlier, parents to begin the conversation earlier, and for heaven’s sake, if you think your child is getting involved in the wrong group, seek help. We’re out to try to find solutions and to try to find treatment,” explained Jackley.

Officials are dealing with xylazine on a law enforcement level and a healthcare level by looking at trends elsewhere.

“Just like law enforcement, healthcare professionals can look to places like Philadelphia and say, ‘how have you dealt with this?’ at the level that unfortunately they have,” explained the sheriff.

Milstead and attorney general Marty Jackley are both pushing for new legislation. They say that South Dakota cannot wait. Jackley signed onto a letter with 38 other attorneys general to ask Congress to adjust laws so that they list xylazine as a controlled substance. In legislation, they would need to specify xylazine in powdered form as a controlled substance because the liquid form is not commonly used by drug dealers and veterinarians would still need access to the liquid form. They’re still waiting for a response.

“Congress has failed to act,” remarked Jackley. “I’ve publicly stated as attorney general it’s serious enough that if Congress doesn’t act by January, I will go to the governor and the legislature and ask for emergency orders so that we can protect South Dakota.” Jackley went on to say, “This is not about our delegation. This is frankly about the body of Congress not taking action.”

Milstead also mentioned that the United States can trace back the drugs trafficked into the country from China by way of the southern border with Mexico.

“It would be handy if they could shut off the southwest border flow of drugs into the U.S. that is coming across at an unprecedented rate,” explained Milstead.