PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Leaders in Washington are implementing new tactics to target the nation’s deadly overdose epidemic.

On Wednesday, Dr. Rahul Gupta, Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), designated fentanyl combined with xylazine as an emerging threat to the United States.

But Peoria County leaders said this isn’t a new issue.

Chris Schaffner, JOLT Harm Reduction’s program director, said the shocking substance is popping up more and more in the local fentanyl supply.

“With the Xylazine, it’s animal tranquilizer, it’s not meant for human consumption,” Schaffner said.

Xylazine, also known as “tranq” is FDA approved for veterinary use, but its impact on the human body can have deadly consequences.

“Death occurs when you have been without oxygen for a prolonged period of time, eventually your heart shuts down,” Schaffner. “This [xylazine] is going to speed that process up because it’s already reducing the heart rate.”

Schaffner said the tranquilizer mixed with drugs can extend the high for the person using the substance as well as help them avoid the withdrawal process a little longer so they don’t have to return to using so frequently.

But he said it can slow down a person’s breathing, and make them lose consciousness. It can also cause skin lesions, skin ulcers, tissue breakdown, and even death.

He said since it’s not an opioid, it will also not respond to the overdose-reversing tools Naloxone/Narcan.

“We can give somebody Narcan or Naloxone to reverse the overdose of the opiate, but they may not wake up,” Schaffner said.

Schaffner said it’s still important to administer Narcan during a fentanyl/xylazine overdose because it can still reverse the overdose from the fentanyl, but the effects of the xylazine would require hospitalization.

Schaffner said he hopes the White House’s acknowledgment of the issue would result in more funding to address the underlying issues.

Peoria County Coroner Jamie Harwood said the White House’s response on Wednesday is too little too late.

“Having the White House declare this an emerging threat right now is a day late and a dollar short,” Harwood said. “Xylazine has been around this is not new data for us to learn.”

Harwood said over the past few years, xylazine popped up in up to 30% of Peoria County’s deadly overdose cases. He said, this year alone, he’s identified the tranquilizer in 10% of overdoses where someone has died.

During Tuesday’s Peoria City Council meeting, Second District Councilman Chuck Grayeb brought up the topic and asked the Peoria police chief if police, fire, and AMT were aware of the issue.

“I’m told we’re seeing some of this in Peoria, I don’t know to what extent,” Eric Echevarria, Peoria Police Chief, said. “We’ll work with JOLT, we’ll work with our paramedics, our fire department, EMS and figure out what we have and what we don’t have.”

Schaffner said currently JOLT is trying to get out the information to the public on xylazine and its risks, but he said many of the local drug suppliers and users don’t even know xylazine is in their supply.

He said JOLT is also ordering xylazine testing strips to test samples in their office, but due to how expensive the strips are they will not be handing them out to the public.

Schaffner said since this is an emerging trend, there is not a lot of unified effort or sharing of information in the county right now that can be helpful in the fight.

He said public health organizations should lead the charge in addressing this issue and there needs to be more effort and resources dedicated to helping people recover, engage in treatment, find housing, and mental health services.

“We need more investment on the demand side to help folks overcome their substance use and the variables in their lives that contribute to substance use,” Schaffner said.