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Closings and Delays

Three Southwest Michigan counties say they rank among the highest in the state for xylazine deaths

Roughly six rows of pills and tablets, many pastel-colored, in baggies, laid out on a dark tablecloth
Alameda County Sheriff's Office
This Saturday, April 23, 2022, evidence photo provided by the Alameda County Sheriff's Office shows seized 92.5 pounds (42 kilograms) of illicit fentanyl displayed in Alameda, Calif. Xylazine is sometimes mixed with fentanyl; users may not be aware.

The animal sedative, also known as "tranq," has become a part of the illicit drug supply.

Health officers in Berrien, Calhoun and Kalamazoo Counties hope to fight xylazine with information about its potentially deadly effects.

The animal sedative, which also goes by street names including “tranq,” is sometimes used on its own. It’s also being added to opioids like fentanyl in the illicit drug trade. In many ways a xylazine high resembles that of opioids, but it starts faster and lasts longer, according to the Berrien County Health Department.

Health Officer Guy Miller said Berrien County has been hit hard by xylazine. In 2021 it had just one death related to the drug. Last year it had eight.

“When you calculate in the size of our community versus the size of other communities, that is the greatest rate increase in the state of Michigan,” Miller said.

Berrien isn’t the only part of Southwest Michigan where xylazine poses an increasing risk. William Nettleton is the medical director for Kalamazoo and Calhoun Counties.

“As of September 2022, both Calhoun and Kalamazoo counties are in the top five counties in Michigan with xylazine-associated deaths,” he said.

Miller said he hopes to warn the community about the dangers of the drug. Unlike an opioid overdose, a xylazine overdose cannot be reversed with the drug naloxone. Xylazine can also cause large, open wounds on the user’s body – “necrotic skin ulcerations,” in the Food and Drug Administration’s words — which can occur even away from the injection site.