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Mixed with fentanyl, xylazine can cause serious damage, including amputation.

Radio-Canada

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Harm reduction workers in Ottawa say xylazine, a powerful animal tranquilizer detected in several illicit drugs, exposes its users to serious harm.

The Downtown Community Health Center and the Sandy Hill Community Health Center said they discovered the powerful veterinary sedative, nicknamed the zombie drug, in circulation in recent years.

Typically used to sedate horses and cattle, xylazine can have dangerous effects in humans, including prolonged fainting, according to Ottawa Public Health.

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This device analyzes the components of drug samples so that harm reduction workers can alert people to the presence of unexpected ingredients.

As a central nervous system depressant, it has a dangerous effect on vital signs, such as heart rate and blood pressure. Its consumption in humans is not approved in Canada, and its long-term effects on human health are unknown.

Mixed with fentanyl, the sedative can cause damage that could lead to amputation. Its emergence in communities across Canada is also worrying, especially since naloxone, which reverses the effects of opioid overdoses, has no effect on the zombie drug.

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Six fentanyl samples voluntarily submitted for analysis to the Downtown Community Health Center since the start of the year have tested positive for xylazine. Sandy Hill Community Health Center first found the tranquilizer in fentanyl samples brought to the center by users last week.

It's pretty new for us, said Derrick St John, a nurse in charge of the Sandy Hill supervised consumption site and other harm reduction services.

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Derrick St John works for the Downtown Community Health Center.

A member of the community group Overdose Prevention Ottawa, Leah Podobnik said xylazine has been circulating in Ottawa for two years, although it has only recently been detected in clinics.

We've seen atypical overdoses, where we can't revive the person with just naloxone, says Leah Podobnik, who previously worked at supervised consumption sites for six years.

The use of recently acquired drug screening devices in Ottawa clinics has helped both drug users and harm reduction workers better navigate a context where, as said Derrick St John, users are unwittingly exposing themselves to a cocktail of opioids and stimulants without any quality control.

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The Sandy Hill Community Health Center is located on Nelson Street, just north of the street Curtain.

Both community health centers now regularly test drugs and detect unexpected compounds, such as xylazine.

Mr. St John demonstrated Sandy Hill's testing machine Friday afternoon, when the health center received three fentanyl samples to analyze.

Wearing gloves, he took a crystal-green piece of fentanyl from a bag, placed it on a chip reader the size of a matchbox, then inserted the chip into a tower computer equipped with a laser scanner.

The results, displayed on a laptop about five minutes later, confirmed the presence of xylazine.

The main interested party recalled that consumers can test drugs for various reasons, and that other drugs will soon be added to the database. It is possible to have your drug tested at the center, 7 days a week, between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.

After receiving the results, some people choose to give up their drug, but they can also keep it.

Those who keep it are encouraged to bring a dose of naloxone . Think of harm reduction as a seat belt. That doesn't mean you won't have an accident, but the consequences won't be as serious, he gave as an example.

Downtown Community Health Center CEO Rob Boyd said his clinic hopes to have improved quality control now that it's getting better data.

With information from Guy Quenneville and Nick Persaud, from CBC News

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