Xylazine is an animal tranquilizer that is typically used by veterinarians to sedate large animals such as horses and deer.
It is not approved for use in humans but is commonly mixed with fentanyl, cocaine or heroin and is known by the street name "tranq," according to the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
According to DEA figures, overdose deaths linked to xylazine increased by 1,127 percent in the south of the country from 2020 to 2021 - from 116 to 1,423 - and were substantially higher in other regions too.
A kilogram (2.2 pounds) of xylazine powder can be purchased online from Chinese suppliers for just $6-$20 dollars, according to the DEA.
Consumption of xylazine can lower one's blood pressure and heart rate to critically low levels and can cause skin ulcers and abscesses that can lead to amputation.
Gupta said the federal government will publish a plan within 90 days on ways to combat the overdose scourge caused by xylazine, also known as the "zombie drug."
The plan would look at increasing testing capacity, withdrawal management, treatment protocols and attacking the supply chain of illicit xylazine, he said.
"President Biden remains committed to beating the overdose crisis," Rahul Gupta, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy said. "We need support from Congress for this and we'll continue to work with members of both parties on this urgent issue."
"This is the first time in our nation's history that a substance is being designated as an emerging threat by any administration," Gupta added.