New substance showing up in drugs adds to danger

Jan. 24—The growing use of the drug xylazine is highlighting the importance of receiving addiction help in Buchanan County.

The drug, which commonly is used as a tranquilizer for animals, has been showing up mixed with other drugs, including fentanyl and heroin. In addition to causing a host of problems in those using it, xylazine also doesn't respond to opioid overdose treatments like Narcan.

Kristina Hannon, co-CEO of Family Guidance Center, said in 2022, her agency helped 3,447 people who were experiencing substance abuse disorders. Of that number, 2,308 people were receiving assistance for drug-related problems.

Hannon said when people receive help for drug issues, underlying reasons also are treated.

"Most addiction begins in pain, whether it's emotional pain, physical pain, trauma," she said.

Hannon said that these experiences can lead people to use drugs as an escape.

"A theme we hear from people is 'I wanted to find a way to get away' from whatever that pain-causing source was," Hannon said. "We see people start to use substances as an escape from something or as a way to try to temporarily help themselves feel better, not recognizing necessarily that leads down the path of addiction."

Buchanan County Sheriff Bill Puett said he's also seen a wide variety of reasons people start using drugs.

"Sometimes we talk to users and they will say it only takes once ... that gets them hooked and they crave and they need to continue to feed that," Puett said. "So a lot of this 'I'm just going to try it once and I'm never going to do it again' is not accurate because there are many that get hooked on it. It's because they continue to chase that high."

Both Puett and Hannon have noticed that users are becoming younger and younger.

"The drug investigators that I have worked with have seen drug use all the way down to grade school, which is just very frightening for our community and for our parents," Puett said. "Part of this is we really need to do good education. When kids see adults or people that they look up to who might be doing certain things and using certain things, they start to want to emulate those people and they think that's OK. They don't realize that some of the consequences and problems that come from that. So we need good role models."

Hannon said kids often work their way up to harder drugs after abusing other substances first.

"What we're seeing now is kids are starting to drink 9, 10 years old. Kids are progressing to marijuana shortly after that. And we are treating kids who are 13, 14, 15 years old for hard substance use," Hannon said. "What we see with kids using is how easily accessible these substances are, partly how easily accessible they are in people's homes but also how easy it is to access these things at parties. That's also part of the culture change we've seen in terms of kids, in parents ... in that relationship being critical. Kids are having a lot more independence at a lot earlier age."

Other ways that kids are getting access to drugs is through technology use including phones, social media and online gaming. In any case, it is important for parents to keep tabs on their kids to keep them out of trouble.

"You need to have full control over who your kids are talking to at that age to make sure that you're taking away some of these things that could harm them," Hannon said. "Making sure you're having very honest and candid conversations with your kids because you can't be with your kids every minute of the day. Conversations like one pill can kill needs to start with kids much younger than what we're talking to children at."

Puett said that people in need of help fighting addiction can receive it from many agencies including the Family Guidance Center and the St. Kolbe-Puckett Center for Healing.

"There's plenty of resources in the community that are available to people who are struggling," Puett said.

He also said that in some cases the best option is to have law enforcement help.

"Sometimes it may take our intervention. We've had families that have said that their loved one is so involved and deeply troubled by narcotic use that they sometimes have to be arrested and go into the system to get help," Puett said. "We are one avenue when someone is abusing drugs and selling."

Hannon said that although the community is seeing an increasing presence of substance use, more people also are reaching out to receive treatment.

"We know that while drug use is increasing, people who are willing to say 'This is a problem for me' are willing to come in and get care to try to get off abusing substances and improve their lives," she said.

Riley Funk can be reached at