February 26, 2024

Pennsylvania votes to criminalize sedative while keeping it available to veterinarians

Kristin Marcell

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Legislation to keep an animal tranquilizer accessible for its intended use by veterinarians but criminalize it in combination with other drugs was approved by the Pennsylvania state House on Oct. 4.

The bill passed and was sent to the state Senate on a vote of 169-34.

Xylazine is a prescription sedative that veterinarians use to safely handle and treat farm animals, wildlife, zoo animals and household pets like cats and dogs.

Officials say the pain-relieving, muscle-relaxing drug, sometimes referred to as “tranq,” is often misused by being added to fentanyl and heroin. It was detected in 3,000 U.S. drug deaths in 2021, according to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro made Pennsylvania among the states that have moved to restrict access to the drug. He ordered it to be listed as a “schedule III” drug under Pennsylvania’s controlled substance law in April.

The classification caused vets to worry that the drug would unavailable in the state for its intended purpose.

Advocates for the legislation passed by the state House say that it would keep the drug available, while targeting its use on the streets.

“We cannot wait to see how bad this will get before we act,” said Rep. Kristin Marcell, R-Bucks.

Under the legislation, the bill would criminalize the illicit use of the drug — with potential imprisonment of up to five years and a fine of up to $15,000.

The proposal would also require that the drug be stored safely when used professionally, to prevent theft or improper access.

Some lawmakers said they were concerned that the criminalization of the drug would do more harm than good, warning that it would put more people in prison.

“I cannot in good conscience open more individuals to having their medical conditions addressed through an unequipped criminal system,” said Rep. Emily Kinkead, D-Allegheny, who voted against it.