RIZE Massachusetts Funds Project to Validate Accuracy of Xylazine Test Strips

May 25, 2023

RIZE Massachusetts Funds Project to Validate Accuracy of Xylazine Test Strips

Study Includes Launch of Community Drug-Checking Network in New England

BOSTON (May 25, 2023) – RIZE Massachusetts, an independent nonprofit foundation working to end the overdose epidemic in Massachusetts, today announced it has awarded a $69,500 Insights and Solutions grant to the Opioid Policy Research Collaborative at Brandeis University and the Massachusetts Drug Supply Data Stream (MADDS) to study and validate the accuracy of xylazine test strips.

Xylazine, sometimes referred to as “tranq,” is a non-opiate, long acting, and sedating veterinary medication that has been increasingly detected in the Massachusetts drug supply. Data from MADDS estimates that about one-third of New England’s illicit drug supply contains xylazine. Xylazine use is linked to painful skin ulcers and, when combined with synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, can cause heavy sedation and further decreased respiratory function which can increase overdose risk. Opioid overdose reversal drugs like naloxone (Narcan) do not reverse xylazine’s effects, because it is not an opiate. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration issued a warning in December 2022 about the growing threat of drugs laced with xylazine.

“Our project, partnering with community drug-checking programs, will help determine how well the test strips work on actual drug samples,” said Traci Green of the Brandeis Opioid Policy Research Collaborative. “New technologies like the test strips are often tested in a lab with simulated drug samples, using protocols that are far from real-world practice. RIZE’s grant allows us to turn this process upside down and start in community drug-checking programs instead of ending there.”

This approach will help compile the necessary data to validate the strips and to create instructions and messages that community members can rely on to save lives. It will test 300 to 400 samples over a six-month period and develop protocols for test strips to detect xylazine in a drug sample.

MADDS, in collaboration with community drug-checking sites across Massachusetts and similar programs in neighboring states, will launch Network One: New England Community Drug Checking Innovations Network, to support this effort. Participating sites will receive stipends of up to $4,000 based on the number of samples tested and a small gift card incentive will be given to individuals who bring in drug samples to get tested.

“We in the medical field have seen the harm caused by xylazine up close,” said RIZE board member Dr. Michael Tang, who leads behavioral health services for Cityblock Health. “Validating xylazine test strips will allow local and national leaders to better understand the drug supply, and enable individuals, organizations and policymakers to implement the solutions needed to save lives.”

RIZE’s Insights and Solutions grant program supports research that will contribute to the evidence base and advance public policy by identifying system-level and behavior change-level considerations that can be employed toward long-term solutions to the opioid crisis in the Commonwealth.

About RIZE Massachusetts

RIZE Massachusetts Foundation is solely dedicated to funding and creating solutions to end the overdose crisis. Guided by those with lived experience and unafraid of new ideas, RIZE is building networks, designing programming, and supporting community partners who are using novel approaches to preventing overdose and increasing access to treatment. Learn more at www.rizema.org.