HOOVER – Attorney General Steve Marshall spoke Friday at an event for health care providers focused on the opioid crisis.
The event, held at the Renaissance Birmingham Ross Bridge, included several experts in the field of medicine.
As the opioid crisis continues, a new deadly drug similar to an opioid has found its way to Alabama that does not react to antidotes, such as NARCAN.
Xylazine is a sedative and pain reliever approved for veterinary use in large animals, such as horses, but it is not safe or effective in humans. It is illegal to use on humans, even in a hospital setting. The drug has been blamed for the deaths of 39 people in Jefferson County this year and many more across the nation.
When asked about the drug, Marshall said he had not been familiar with it, but he planned on seeing if there was a problem and, if so, what could be done about it. He said he would speak with forensic science experts in the state to find out more.
Marshall said synthetic drugs are another problem the state has been dealing with for years. For example, after the state made Kratom illegal several years ago, producers of illicit drugs came up with new mixtures to get away with selling the drugs.
"As we see these synthetics arise, and we do, the number one is that we have the ability, potentially, for the Department of Public Health to schedule that quickly, to make it controlled so that we have the ability to make that sale unlawful," Marshall said. "The other would be to modify our criminal statutes to include that drug."
Marshall said chemists sometimes can outpace the law to make what they sell "technically legal."
Dr. Julia Boothe, the president of the Medical Association of the State of Alabama, said the good news is that opioid prescriptions have decreased in Alabama over the past 10 years, and dosage strengths have been lowered. However, she said education is critical when it comes to street drugs.
"It's going to continue," Boothe said. "And there's not a reversal agent for everything that's invented out there, either. Again, that's why we say our main goal is, have naloxone, have it available, only take medications that you are prescribed, and only take what you get from a pharmacist because you do not know what you are getting."
As for xylazine, Boothe said that most times, people don't know that it has been mixed with the street drug they think they are taking.
"They are just getting their usual substance from their dealer, and now all of a sudden, something has been mixed in or batched in," she said. "So, people have to understand the risks, and nobody is looking out for you outside of that physician-patient relationship."
Marshall said it is vital to take swift action on any deadly substances that are killing people in the state.
"If the medical community can make the public health board aware, that's the quickest option to get something done," Marshall explained.
Marshall said local law enforcement and district attorneys also work together to make changes when new drugs are discovered.
Xylazine causes similar side effects as fentanyl, heroin and other illicit drugs.
Read more about the drug and what the Jefferson County Coroner about it here.
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