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There's a new animal sedative being linked to overdoses across the country, officials say

The drug was found in the illicit drug supply in several parts of Canada earlier this year, but it's been detected in the U.S. since 2022.
Scientist Chemist Lab Research Test Tube
Posted at 10:49 AM, May 29, 2024

A powerful drug that is primarily used to sedate animals has been linked to a recent wave of overdoses in several cities, prompting a public alert from The Center for Forensic Science Research and Education (CFSRE).

Medetomidine has consistently been found in street drug “products” alongside fentanyl, heroin and xylazine — another tranquilizer commonly found in street drugs — following a recent outbreak of overdoses in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Chicago, the CFSRE said.

The uptick in overdoses associated with the depressant, in combination with other illicit drugs, is a cause for concern, the CFSRE said.

Medetomidine, known by the brand name Domitor, is a potent surgical anesthetic approved for veterinary medicine. Another form of the drug, dexmedetomidine, is sometimes used in human medicine for sedation or muscle relaxation.

When a toxic amount of medetomidine is ingested, the CFSRE said it can cause sedation, hypnotic effects, hypotension and bradycardia, which is an abnormal heart rhythm.

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The drug was found in the illicit drug supply in several parts of Canada earlier this year, leading Canadian authorities to issue similar public health alerts. However, medetomidine has been in the U.S. street drug supply since 2022, though not consistently like it has been found today.

It first appeared in Maryland in combination with fentanyl and other substances, then was later found after suspected opioid overdoses in Missouri, Colorado, Pennsylvania and California in 2023, according to the CFSRE.

The CFSRE issued a “toxic adulterant alert” in December 2023 regarding medetomidine, warning law enforcement agencies and other officials that it was becoming increasingly common in the recreational drug supply.

Most hospital-based clinical labs do not offer medetomidine toxicology testing, so the CFSRE has recommended coroners and medical examiners consider additional analysis when testing for a suspected opioid- or fentanyl-related death.

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