A new type of animal tranquilizer called Xylazine is appearing more frequently in drug supplies across the country and is thought to be responsible for thousands of overdoses in states like Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware, and New Jersey. Also known by the street name, “Tranq,” Xylazine poses a major threat to public health, as not only can the drug be lethal, but it can also cause necrosis (death of bodily tissue) which can lead to loss of fingers, toes, and even limbs in severe cases.
Xylazine belongs to a class of drugs known as sedatives and is sold under the brand names Rompun®, Sedazine®, and AnaSed®. Currently, it is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for veterinary medicine only, where it is used as a sedative, analgesic, and muscle relaxant for horses and cattle, similar to tranquilizers like Ketamine.
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Officials say drug suppliers are lacing the Fentanyl and Heroin supply with Xylazine because it is cheap and easy to get. This means that many users may be using the drug unknowingly. Because Xylazine isn’t an Opioid, it can’t be detected by Fentanyl testing strips, nor can its effects be negated using Naloxone, a medication that reverses the effects of drug overdoses. The drug has been said to be so powerful that it can “knock out” users for about 6 to 8 hours, far longer than most Opioids.
Shawn Westfahl, an overdose prevention coordinator for Prevention Point, Philadelphia’s only needle exchange, says the combination of Xylazine and Fentanyl can put a person to sleep for hours, making it harder to determine whether someone is experiencing an overdose.
Along with its extremely addictive nature, Xylazine poses serious risks for users. Since the drug is often mixed with Opioids like Fentanyl or Heroin, it can not only be ingested unknowingly, but it can also be extremely deadly.
Jamill Taylor, a member of Philadelphia’s narcotics unit, says that “[Xylazine] is basically eating them alive. It causes them to rot from the inside out.” Taylor is referring to perhaps the most alarming symptom of Xylazine use: necrosis. In many cases, the use of Xylazine use can cause skin cells to die, leading to loss of fingers, toes, and even limbs in some cases. Health officials in Philadelphia report that a woman who had been admitted to the hospital for Xylazine needed both an arm and leg amputation due to “severe necrosis.”
Symptoms of Xylazine Use
According to officials with the US Drug Enforcement Agency, reports of non-fatal Xylazine cases ranged from concentrations of 30 to 4,600 mL. In non-fatal cases, some of the most reported symptoms include:
Miosis (constriction of the pupils)
Hyperglycemia (high blood sugar)
Reports of fatal overdoses involving Xylazine were identified as those with a drug concentration up to 16,000 mL. According to the DEA, it is extremely difficult to ascertain exactly where the threshold of lethal and non-lethal doses of Xylazine is due to the wide range of reported doses.
When used frequently, in high concentrations, or alongside other substances like Fentanyl, Xylazine can have serious, life-threatening symptoms. These include:
Bradycardia (slowed heart rate)
Frequent, persistent skin infections
Furthermore, the DEA has urged extreme caution surrounding Xylazine use, as normal overdose-prevention medications, like Narcan, will not work on someone heavily sedated on Xylazine. Given the high prevalence of Opioids like Fentanyl that are commonly mixed with Xylazine, health officials still say Narcan should be administered should someone display overdose symptoms.
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While it’s unclear where exactly the surge in supply of Xylazine is coming from, what public health officials do know is that Philadelphia has become ground zero for this new, deadly drug.
Health officials in the city claim that an “alarming” amount of the drug has entered the city in the last few years, leading to a spike in cases of Xylazine-related overdoses. Researchers in Pennsylvania estimate that Xylazine is in 91% of the Heroin and Fentanyl supply in Philadelphia, and claim its prevalence is making its way west. Additionally, the Detroit Free Press reports that deaths involving the tranquilizer increased 87% from 2019 to 2020 in the state of Michigan.
Other states that have been plagued by the recent spike in Xylazine include New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland, all of which have seen a staggering increase in overdoses in the last year. In Maryland alone, which ranks 6th in the country for the rate of fatal overdoses (44.6 per 100,000), Xylazine was involved in nearly 20% of all fatal drug overdoses in 2021.
Treating Xylazine Addiction
While Xylazine in and of itself is not a “new” substance, its use outside of veterinary medicine has skyrocketed in the last few years. Since the drug has not been studied for its effects on humans extensively, along with the fact that much of the Xylazine in circulation is laced with Opioids like Fentanyl, it can be extremely difficult to determine when someone may be experiencing an overdose or severe adverse effects.
Since health officials know very little about the drug, it is not advised for anyone who is using Xylazine to detox alone. Experts suggest undergoing a supervised medical detox at an inpatient rehab facility for the safest possible outcome.
Should adverse effects or signs of addiction to Xylazine or other drugs be present, the time to get help is now. Xylazine has no authorized use outside of veterinary medicine, meaning any use of the drug is not only illegal but can have potentially life-threatening side effects.
Zachary Pottle earned his B.A. in Professional Writing from Saint Leo University and has over three years of journalistic experience. His passion for writing has led him to a career in journalism, where he specializes in writing about stories in the pain management and healthcare industry. His main goal as a writer is to bring readers accurate, trustworthy content that serve as useful resources for bettering their lives or the lives of those around them.
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