Xylazine: The Dangerous New Drug Linked to Overdoses
A new drug is being linked to overdoses in the US. The drug, xylazine, is being combined with opioids such as fentanyl. But the combination is deadly, and now the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is warning the public about the growing threat.
What is Xylazine?
Xylazine is a tranquilizer approved for use with animals but not for humans. For veterinarians, the drug is used to sedate and anesthetize animals. It can also be used to induce vomiting in animals.
Yet the drug has also come to be abused by humans. When combined with fentanyl, the drug lengthens the euphoric effect. On the street, this combination is also known as “tranq” or “tranq dope.” Additionally, the drug is also being combined with heroin and cocaine.
Specifically, the drug is consumed by injection, snorting, swallowing, and inhaling. Its abuse has been around beginning in the early 2000s, starting in Puerto Rico and since hitting the continental US, particularly the northeast.
Earlier this week, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued an alert warning of the sharp increase in the trafficking of tranq. The DEA reports that tranq has been found in 48 out of 50 states. Moreover, approximately 23% of fentanyl powder and 7% of fentanyl pills seized by the DEA in 2022 contained xylazine.
How Dangerous is Xylazine?
Ingestion of the drug can be fatal in humans. When not fatal, use can cause skin sores and infections at injection sites. Such skin ulcers and wounds can result in the rotting of human tissue, which can then lead to amputation.
The drug can also have other side effects on a person’s health. Of concern is that the drug can cause drowsiness and amnesia. Additionally, it will slow a person’s breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure to dangerously low levels.
Because it isn’t an opioid, opioid antagonists such as Narcan do not reverse the effects of a xylazine overdose. Thus in an emergency, immediate medical attention and hospitalization in required to quickly address the overdose.
Sen. Chuck Schumer has called on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to accelerate operations to track down illicit sources of the drug. Next, Schumer wants to provide additional funds to law enforcement to stop the trafficking of the drug. Finally, the senator wants to boost appropriations to organizations to fund testing and treatment of the overdose crisis.
- DEA Joint Intelligence Report, The Growing Threat of Xylazine and its Mixture with Illicit Drugs (Oct. 2022). Available at: https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2022-12/The%20Growing%20Threat%20of%20Xylazine%20and%20its%20Mixture%20with%20Illicit%20Drugs.pdf (last accessed Mar. 22, 2023).
- Rachel Treisman, What to know about xylazine, the drug authorities are calling a public safety threat, NPR (Mar. 21, 2023). Available at: https://www.npr.org/2023/03/21/1165006744/xylazine-tranq-dea-warning-drug-overdose-deaths (last accessed Mar. 22, 2023).
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