MDHHS warns residents, care providers of new illegal drug found in Michigan

MDHHS Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.png
Posted at 5:44 PM, Jun 06, 2024

LANSING, Mich. — The state health department has issued a warning for a new illegal drug making the rounds in Michigan. Fatal overdoses have already been reported.

Medetomidine is blamed for three overdoses since March, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), citing data from Western Michigan University’s Swift Toxicology of Opioid-Related Mortalities (STORM).

We’re told medetomidine is a tranquilizer normally used by veterinarians. It slows heart rates, lowers blood pressure and reduces activity in the brain and spinal cord.

MDHHS stresses medetomidine is not approved to be used on humans, as it can lead to depression in the central nervous system and death. Like xylazine, its effects cannot be treated with naloxone or Narcan. There are also no test strips capable of detecting medetomidine.

“Medetomidine is considered more potent than xylazine and we want to make sure Michigan residents are aware of this new and dangerous drug showing up in overdose deaths in our state,” says Chief Medical Executive Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian. “Even though naloxone doesn’t directly reverse the effects of medetomidine or xylazine, these tranquilizers are usually found in combination with opioid drugs, like fentanyl, that can be reversed. For this reason, we continue to urge individuals who use drugs and their loved ones to carry naloxone to prevent overdose.”

The state advises healthcare providers, harm-reduction agencies and organizations specializing in substance use disorders to do the following:

  • Raise awareness for medetomidine’s presence in the illicit drug supply and created layered strategies to reduce Michiganders’ risk of overdose (e.g. use in groups, use less, keep naloxone on hand, watch your breathing).
  • Administer rescue breaths to someone experiencing respiratory depression. Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s website for instructions.
  • Provide naloxone and test strips for xylazine and fentanyl. Request naloxone here.
  • Consult MDHHS’s Substance Use Vulnerability Index to address gaps and barriers on the community level.

The state health department says they will keep monitoring STORM and distribute updated information as they come.

Agencies are encouraged to share information on incidents involving medetomidine since January with the state by emailing MDHHS-MODASurveillance@Michigan.gov.

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