May 10, 2023 – In early March, county health officials initially said they weren’t sure whether the deadly adulterant had begun appearing on the streets of Los Angeles. Weeks later, the Times learned that the Sheriff’s Department crime lab had been detecting signs of xylazine in drug samples for at least four years — but they’d never told the health department or the public. At the time, department officials said that was because, despite its harms, xylazine is not illegal, so formally tracking it was beyond the scope of their work.

Now, though, the pilot program could help change that.

Starting in mid-April, crime lab analysts began making note of any preliminary signs of xylazine they spotted while testing samples of confiscated drugs. In the past, even when lab workers noticed test results that seemed to show the presence of xylazine, they didn’t typically make any note of it. Instead, they treated it like any other legal substances commonly used as additives in illegal drugs.

“There are a bunch of different additives — like vitamin C, which comes up a lot — that we don’t write down,” said Capt. Ernest Bille, who oversees the department’s Scientific Services Bureau. “The mission, given the volume of the caseload that we have, is to figure out: Is this a controlled substance or not?”