ALLEGAN, Mich. (WOOD) — Law enforcement agencies and health officials across West Michigan are on alert for a new sedative that has been found in batches of illicit drugs and causes more complications and overdoses.

The drug is called xylazine but is commonly referred to as tranq. It’s a sedative typically used by veterinarians. Xylazine has been linked to an increasing number of overdose deaths, starting in the eastern United States and slowly spreading west, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse.

The NIDA says mixtures of xylazine have been found in cocaine, heroin, benzodiazepines, alcohol, methadone and prescription opioids. The drug depresses the central nervous system, reportedly extending or providing more euphoric effects of other drugs, but it can also slow a person’s breathing, heart rate and blood pressure to dangerously low levels.

Unlike fentanyl, another powerful and deadly additive commonly found mixed into illicit drugs, xylazine is not an opioid, meaning the opioid reversal drug naloxone — more commonly known by brand name Narcan — has no effect.

Mark Witte is the executive director of On Point, a nonprofit organization that provides several health services including substance abuse help in Allegan County. Witte said he first learned about xylazine about six months ago.

“We were notified around midsummer last summer that xylazine was something to be concerned with, that it was showing up on monitoring studies for law enforcement,” Witte told News 8.

Witte said his team has yet to come across xylazine in Allegan County but that doesn’t mean it’s not out there.

“We are not a provider that monitors prevalence of certain substances in the community,” Witte said. “We don’t test our clients to determine what they’re using. We go by what they say, and frankly, our emphasis is on trying to help them achieve their goals, which usually involves dealing with the consequences of use and the desire to live in a drug-free way.”

The drug has been found in Berrien and Van Buren counties. The Van Buren/Cass District Health Department announced a person died of a xylazine-involved overdose last month. The Berrien County Health Department reported one xylazine-related death in 2021 and eight in 2022.

“The trends we are seeing in Berrien County related to xylazine are concerning,” Berrien County Health Officer Guy Miller said in a release. “The Health Department is looking to raise awareness about this drug and its dangerous effects so we can work together to keep community members safe and share information about available resources.”

Health officials say the symptoms of a xylazine overdose are similar to an opioid overdose: small pupils, shallow breathing, low blood pressure and a very low heart rate. Because it may initially be difficult to differentiate a xylazine overdose from an opioid overdose, the Van Buren-Cass health department recommended administering naloxone regardless.

“It’s still important to use naloxone if you suspect someone is overdosing,” the department says. “Naloxone is harmless and will not cause any side effects to someone not experiencing an opioid overdose.”

People are encouraged to reach out to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to learn more about the drug and to reach out to local organizations for help breaking substance addictions.

“Take advantage of the services that are around you,” Witte said. “Call On Point. Call any treatment provider. Call national hotlines. I don’t care what you use but find a place where you can begin the process of recovery. We have coaches, we have clinicians, we have people who are here trying to make themselves available to support you in whatever way you can.”