Drug combinations driving overdose rates: Fentanyl, xylazine, and the disturbing reality of America’s drug crisis

WASHINGTON – As the United States grapples with its deadliest drug epidemic in history, experts caution that an increasing number of deaths result from a combination of drugs. According to data from the National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation (NIHCM), almost three in four cocaine-related deaths involve a synthetic opioid, including fentanyl.

“This type of combination drug use is part of a new trend driving the overdose rate, along with a growing use of xylazine, or ‘tranq,” Cecelia Spitznas, PhD, a senior science policy analyst in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said during the NIHCM webinar.

What’s particularly concerning is that many people who overdose might be unaware that they’re ingesting the highly potent fentanyl.

“Fentanyl is often used to contaminate certain substances, so it’s unlikely that people really, truly know if they are using heroin or they’re using fentanyl,” Spitznas said.

The data also reveals a significant increase of 276% over three and a half years, in fentanyl-related deaths involving xylazine. In April, Emily’s Hope reported a warning from the DEA about the emerging threat of xylazine, a veterinary tranquilizer not intended for human consumption. However, drug manufacturers have been blending it with fentanyl, creating a deadly new substance nicknamed the “zombie drug.” Maryland, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania are the states with the highest percentage of fentanyl deaths involving xylazine.

Additionally, the information underscores that overdose death rates are highest among adults aged 35 to 44 years old.