Kitchener drug checking program finds xylazine

Feb 21, 2024

According to recent data released by the Kitchener drug testing program at the city’s consumption, the powerful tranquilizer xylazine is “rampant” in the local illicit drug supply.

To date, the program has tested nearly 1,000 samples from 300 individuals since it opened in August 2023.

Xylazine, also known as “dope tranq”, is a powerful non-narcotic analgesic drug used in veterinary medicine, and is not currently approved for human use in Canada. The testing at the Kitchener drug testing site using a Scatr machine has confirmed that xylazine has been detected in many samples containing opioids, including fentanyl, tested at the site.

When added to opioid drugs, xylazine can increase the risk of toxic overdose, as well as lead to the development of wounds and infection, sometimes requiring amputation. What’s more, the effects of xylazine are not reversible by naloxone, the life-saving medication used to reverse opioid overdose.

In her interview with The Record, Leigh Wardlaw, the lead for the drug checking program, said about 20% of people chose to use less of their drug after learning its potency and what was in it, while approximately 20% of individuals chose not to use the drug at all and others chose to consume their drug at the drug checking site due to the overdose risk. She also added that at the beginning of the testing program, xylazine was not found in samples at all, but now, it is widespread.

“We’re seeing a lot of people coming through the doors with Xylazine sores,” Wardlaw said. “It’s terrible, it’s absolutely terrible.”

Wardlaw added that she hopes that people will continue to come to the site to get their drugs tested. “We continue to have a steady stream of folks that are coming in,” she said. “We’ve only ever heard good things from our testing, which is great. We want people to come in and test their drugs. That’s what we want.”

In addition, Wardlaw also noted that the site’s staff cannot definitively conclude whether the testing is responsible for the decrease in overdoses, but they have seen individuals alter their drug use based on test results. “The biggest thing that people are saying is this has given them decision-making back to (them) as a drug user,” she said.

“What’s really scary, we had this one sample that came through of methamphetamine and it had carfentanil in it and was like 20% carfentanil that was in that sample,” Wardlaw added. “The person that had brought it in … didn’t use opiates, so … it just would not have been good at all.”