Canadian company develops test for ‘tranq dope’ in street drugs — but it’s not available in Canada

A Canadian biotech company has developed new test strips to detect xylazine as a dangerous sedative for animals in a highly toxic street drug supply — but while the strips have shipped throughout the United States, Canada has yet to approve this potential life-saving tool.

Xylazine, also known as “tranq”, “tranq dope” or “zombie drug”, is a powerful veterinary sedative commonly used as a sedative for large farm animals such as horses being mowed. with opioids such as fentanyl to prolong their effects.

Sedation is not approved for human use in Canada and its long-term effects on human health are unknown, but it can cause hours-long blackouts and studies have shown that people who inject drugs containing xylazine can develop terrible, painful wound or injury can lead to amputation if left untreated.

Health officials say the sedative can also slow breathing, lower blood pressure and decrease heart rate, and significantly increase the risk of fatal overdose when mixed with opioids like fentanyl.

To make a bad situation worse, one of the best overdose prevention tools available – the life-saving overdose reversal drug naloxone – is completely ineffective for xylazine because it is not opium, meaning that efforts to revive people may be futile. Harm reduction advocates and substance use experts warn that this greatly increases the risk of a fatal overdose.

VIEW | Canadian street drugs laced with toxic animal tranquilizers:

More street drugs laced with toxic animal tranquilizers

Health Canada data shows that a dangerous animal tranquilizer called xylazine is increasingly making its way into the illicit drug supply. It can cause serious side effects and is resistant to naloxone, a fast-acting drug that can reverse an opioid overdose.

Xylazine spreads fast in Canada, USA

Test strips made by Canadian biotech company BTNX Inc. developed, works similarly to the fentanyl detection test strip. They can allow users, harm reduction staff and public health units to easily test the street drug xylazine, which is increasingly appearing in supply.

ONE recent report from Health Canada showing the rapid spread of xylazine across the country over the past few years, with an increasing number of street drug samples seized by law enforcement agencies testing positive for the drug. tranquilizers — mostly in Ontario.

In 2018, only five samples of xylazine were analyzed by Health Canada’s Drug Analysis Service, which tests tens of thousands of drugs administered by Canada’s Border Services Agency, the Canadian Corrections Authority and forces police seize every year.

By 2019, that number had grown to 205. Last year alone, there were 1,350.

The United States Drug Enforcement Administration has issued a public safety warning in November warned that its labs had found xylazine in 7% of fentanyl pills and 23% of fentanyl powder seized by law enforcement.

The US Food and Drug Administration has moved to import restrictions pharmaceutical ingredient used to make xylazine, while the United States Congress moved to add tranquilizers to the list of controlled substances to help law enforcement crack down on it.

A gloved hand holds a steel medical instrument over white powder on a microscope specimen stand.
A harm reduction worker uses an infrared spectrometer to examine drug samples in Vancouver in April 2022. Xylazine, a dangerous animal sedative that is not authorized for human use in Canada, being brought into the street drug supply. (Jimmy Jeong/Canadian Press)

Test strips not approved in Canada

Health Canada said in a statement to CBC News that it is currently working with law enforcement and other stakeholders to determine what further actions can be taken to address the importation. illegally importing xylazine into Canada.

A spokesperson said: “Xylazine, a prescription veterinary drug approved for use in animals but not humans, is subject to the Food and Drug Act and its regulations. “However, it is not currently regulated under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.”

Health Canada also confirmed xylazine test strips are not yet licensed for sale in Canada, but received an application for a medical device license from the BTNX on March 17 and said the application is currently being processed. BTNX is also one of the largest COVID-19 rapid test providers in Canada.

Toronto Public Health said in a statement to CBC News that the strips have not yet been used for drug testing, while a spokesperson for Vancouver Coastal Health said it is currently reviewing whether the strips are is a useful addition or not.

BTNX CEO Iqbal Sunderani said that while the company is still waiting for Health Canada to approve the test strips, they have been evaluated in a trial. research in the laboratory from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health (PDPH) and was found to be effective in detecting xylazine in drug samples.

“Until we get Health Canada approval, the tests cannot be used here, but we hope to get approval quickly,” Sunderani said. “We sent out almost 100,000 tests, mostly in the US. Now we are strengthening it.”

‘Very promising’ in xylazine detection

The PDPH study found that xylazine test strips were sensitive enough for use in harm-reduction environments, but they produced false-positive results when a cutting agent called lidocaine commonly found in cocaine was also present.

Alex Krotulski, forensic toxicologist and associate director of the Center for Forensic Science Education & Research, who led the study on the report, said: “We found that the results were very promising, all the samples with xylazine – bands are positive”.

“That means we’ve never had a false-negative result when xylazine was in the sample.”

Philadelphia was the epicenter of the damage of xylazine with more than 90 per fentanyl sample tested positive for xylazine, according to Latest drug trial data from PDPH.

Xylazine test strips developed by Canadian biotech company BTNX are included in this brochure.
The test strips were developed by Canadian biotech company BTNX, which also manufactures COVID-19 rapid test strips and fentanyl test strips. (BTNX)

“The test strips will be really important from a public health perspective, because it could be the early warning they need when those test strips start turning positive,” said Krotulski. “It will be a tool for public health in the field.”

He said the problem with lidocaine may not significantly affect the use of the patches by harm reduction officers and on the street, because they would be less likely to be tested on cocaine samples where xylazine is less likely to be found. much more present.

Health Canada recently said in a report that xylazine is only present in 3.6 percent of cocaine samples seized by law enforcement, compared with 92.5 percent for fentanyl.

“For cocaine, it’s not very good,” Sunderani said of the tests. “But with fentanyl it works.”

How the tests work

He said test kits typically sell for about $2 each, or $200 for a box of 100, which is significantly higher than the cost of the test kit. fentanyl test strips The company also manufactures.

These strips are placed into the mixture of water and drug sample to be tested. If the test is positive, a red line will appear indicating the presence of xylazine, Sunderani said. Company note on its website that the test strip cannot assess the safety or efficacy of a drug.

“Every piece of information is good information, we need to give people options. So I thought it would be great if these test strips worked,” said Karen McDonald, head of Testing Services. Drugs of Toronto said.

“We also have to be realistic about the fact that it’s xylazine now, but it’s going to be something else soon and the reality is people don’t have a choice.”

McDonald said that while it is good for drug users to know what is circulating in the illicit drug supply by using test strips and drug testing, it is good for them to be able to educate and advocate for himself and his colleagues, but that won’t make the supply any less toxic.

“The reality is, a lot of people will still have to take the drug despite it,” she said. “It was terrible.”


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