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State Legislature Votes to Criminalize Xylazine Amid Rising Drug-Related Fatalities

On Wednesday, the state’s legislative body passed a bill aimed at criminalizing the possession of xylazine, an animal sedative commonly used in veterinary medicine for large livestock like cattle and equines. The substance has recently gained notoriety as a frequent adulterant in fentanyl, contributing to a surge in overdose deaths.

The legislation, known as House Bill 1661, proposes to categorize possession of xylazine as a felony, carrying a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine that could reach $15,000. Importantly, the bill maintains an exception for veterinary applications of the drug. The measure received overwhelming support, passing with a 169-34 vote.

Earlier this year, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy identified the combination of fentanyl and xylazine as an emerging public health threat. In response, several states have already moved to reclassify xylazine as a Schedule III or IV controlled substance. Pennsylvania’s Governor Josh Shapiro took interim action to designate xylazine as a Schedule III drug, thereby restricting its accessibility.

One of the alarming aspects of xylazine is its resistance to naloxone, a medication commonly used to reverse opioid overdoses. Additionally, the drug has been linked to severe skin ulcers among users. The rapid infiltration of xylazine into the illegal drug market has prompted lawmakers to act swiftly, bypassing the typically slow-moving regulatory mechanisms.

State Republican Representative Carl Metzgar, the bill’s sponsor, argued that the legislation is an essential move, stating, “There’s no way to charge someone for illegal use otherwise.”

However, the bill has its critics. Democratic State Representative Emily Kinkead contends that the legislation could exacerbate existing problems within the criminal justice system without effectively curbing xylazine use. “Charging low-level drug users does nothing more than introduce more people to our criminal justice system, which is wholly unequipped to treat substance abuse,” she said.

The bill now advances to the Senate chamber for further deliberation.

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