Governor Shapiro Signs Bill into Law Permanently Classifying Xylazine as Schedule III Drug, Taking Further Action Against the Dangerous Drug While Maintaining Legal Access for Veterinary Use

May 15, 2024

Act 17 of 2024 follows Governor Shapiro’s move to temporarily schedule xylazine last year, adding an additional tool to the Shapiro Administration’s multidisciplinary approach to combatting the opioid epidemic.

Since 2018, Pennsylvania has seen a 22-fold increase in overdose deaths where xylazine was a contributing factor.

Harrisburg, PA – Today, Governor Josh Shapiro took further action to limit access to illicit xylazine, the powerful animal tranquilizer commonly known as “tranq,” by signing House Bill 1661 into law. The legislation officially classifies the sedative – which is not approved for use in humans but is increasingly found in Pennsylvania’s street drug supply – as a Schedule III Drug under the Controlled Substances Act.

Earlier this month, the Pennsylvania House and Senate overwhelmingly approved HB1661 with bipartisan majorities, which criminalizes illicit possession of the drug but still maintains licit access for veterinarians for use on large animals.

“By signing this bill into law today, we are sending a powerful message to drug dealers that we will not let you continue to peddle this poison in our communities,” said Governor Josh Shapiro. “This bill helps to ensure xylazine isn’t diverted from legitimate sources to drug dealers, and still allows for important veterinary use on animals. While we hold drug dealers accountable, my Administration will continue to pursue a multidisciplinary approach to the opioid epidemic – investing in law enforcement, treatment, and prevention. We will continue to work with harm reduction professionals to expand access to treatment and recovery services across the Commonwealth.”

Today’s action marks the latest effort by the Shapiro Administration to protect Pennsylvanians from the deadly impacts of xylazine. This comes after the Governor directed Acting Secretary of Health Dr. Debra Bogen to temporarily add xylazine to the list of schedule III drugs under Pennsylvania’s Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act in April 2023; legislation like HB 1661 was needed to permanently classify xylazine as a Schedule III Drug.

“This is an important step to help protect people from illicit xylazine use while allowing veterinarians to use it when needed for large animals,” said Acting Secretary of Health Dr. Debra Bogen. “Our focus remains on harm reduction strategies, reducing stigma associated with substance use and addiction, providing education and training to reduce overdose, and helping people get connected to treatment and other services.”

The bill passed both the House and Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support, led by prime sponsor Representative Carl Walker Metzgar (R-69) with an amendment from Senator Elder Vogel, Jr. (R-47).

“The driver behind this legislation stemmed from Somerset County being the location for one of the first cases involving recreational xylazine usage,” said Representative Carl Metzgar. “The person used it on a baby changing station at a convenience store. Illicit xylazine usage is a serious public health concern, not only to the user but also innocent bystanders. I am grateful to see widespread bipartisan support from my colleagues in the General Assembly and support from Governor Shapiro from the very beginning.”

“I appreciate the bipartisan efforts in both chambers that went into getting House Bill 1661 to the Governor’s desk,” said Senator Elder Vogel. “For years, xylazine has plagued Pennsylvania’s illicit drug supply and it was time for us to take action to curb this disturbing trend while keeping veterinary access at the forefront of discussions. This legislation is a great step toward continuing to protect Pennsylvania families and ensuring optimal veterinary care.”

Scheduling a drug requires manufacturers and distributors to not only verify that a practitioner, like a veterinarian, is licensed but that they are also authorized to receive a controlled substance. Additionally, this action allows for more checks in an ordering system, to ensure the proper address for delivery and receipt of a controlled substance, often requiring the practitioner themselves to sign for the product. Scheduling further requires practitioners to take steps to minimize theft and diversion, including accurate recordkeeping, limiting staff access to the product, and ensuring it’s stored in a secure location.

The Shapiro Administration is taking a multi-pronged approach in battling the illicit possession of xylazine to both help Pennsylvanians get the treatment they need while also working with law enforcement to hold drug dealers accountable.

“Governor Shapiro is placing a continued urgency on addressing the opioid epidemic and today is an example of the multidisciplinary approach our administration is taking to this crisis,” said Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs Secretary Dr. Latika Davis-Jones. “Addressing xylazine, fentanyl and any other emerging drug trends will require all hands-on-deck – public officials, law enforcement, those in the fields of prevention, treatment and recovery, and many others. By working in tandem, we can ensure that more individuals are able to live a life free from the illness of addiction.”

“Xylazine is a dangerous sedative that often contributes to overdose deaths,” said Colonel Christopher Paris, Commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police. “Making unlicensed possession of this drug illegal and allowing law enforcement to get it off our streets will make our communities safer for everyone.”

People exposed to xylazine often knowingly or unknowingly use it in combination with other drugs, particularly illicit fentanyl; the medication is used to lengthen the opioid’s euphoric effects.

Xylazine is a growing threat to communities across the Commonwealth. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, in 2022, xylazine contributed to 760 overdose deaths, a 31.9% increase from 2021 at 575 fatal overdoses. In 2023, preliminary numbers show xylazine contributed to 1,135 overdose deaths across 51 counties – a 22-fold increase in just five years from 2018 at 51 overdose deaths.

In 2022, the FDA warned that xylazine is not safe for use in humans. Xylazine use may also result in skin ulcers with wounds that excrete puss, have decaying tissue and bacterial infections, which can lead to amputation. 

While opioid-reversing medications such as naloxone will not reverse the effects of xylazine itself, it can still be effective in reversing the effects of the particular opioid involved and should still be administered if symptoms consistent with possible opioid overdose are present. If xylazine was involved, the person may still appear sedated after their breathing has returned.

Anyone seeking substance use treatment or recovery resources for themselves or a loved one can call the toll-free PA Get Help Now helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (1-800-662-4357), or go online to the Addiction Treatment Locator, Assessment, and Standards Platform (ATLAS) at treatmentatlas.org.

ATLAS can help Pennsylvanians find and compare addiction treatment services and facilities to find the one that will work best for their family.

MEDIA CONTACT:

Governor’s Press Office: ra-gvgovpress@pa.gov

# # #

SHARE Email Facebook Twitter