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Deadly substance linked to fatal overdoses in Monroe County

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Monroe County officials are warning residents of a substance that has been found in street drugs that is now connected to deadly overdoses in the area.

The substance is called Xylazine, or commonly referred to as “horse tranquilizer,” and according to health officials the FDA has only approved the drug for veterinary use.  Xylazine, however, has been found to be cut into heroin, fentanyl and cocaine. 

If ingested by a person, experts say Xylazine can cause severe central nervous system, cardiovascular and respiratory damages.

News of this substance comes just days after the county was experiencing a string of overdoses, including the death of three people on a porch on Grand Avenue in Rochester.

Officials have yet to confirm whether or not Xylazine is directly connected to those deaths, but Michael Favata, a deputy sheriff with Monroe County’s Heroin Task Force said the recent overdoses are reversing the progress the county has made over the past year.

“The numbers were declining this year, which was wonderful, but those numbers seem to be going in the wrong direction in the last four to five days,” Favata said.

The three fatalities on Grand Avenue are included in the seven overdoses that occurred between Saturday and Monday of this week.

“One of the most troubling aspects of all of this is that there is help available, yet people continue to die,” said Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza.

Mendoza said the county is working hard to connect individuals and families with the resources they need to overcome substance abuse.

Randy Cimino, the president of Gates to Recovery--a local support for those battling addiction-- said those resources should include mental health counseling for substance abusers. 

“You're not going to get better by going to rehab,” Cimino said, “You're only going to get better by going to a mental health specialist and finding out what your problem is.”

Cimino said if you or someone you know is struggling with addiction please call  Gates to Recovery at (585) 310-4080.

Racquel Stephen is a health and environment reporter. She holds a bachelor's degree in English literature from the University of Rochester and a master's degree in broadcasting and digital journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.