Xylazine: What You Must Know About This Drug

xylazine and tranq

Every year it seems a worrying new street drug enters the public consciousness. Xylazine is the street drug the Internet is buzzing about at the moment. New street drug compounds are alarming enough without the misinformation and rumors that often seem to accompany them. This article from Cottonwood Tucson clears the air by providing crucial facts on Xylazine and its effects and risks.

What is Xylazine?

Xylazine is a veterinary tranquilizer. In fact, it was expressly designed to sedate animals for surgery. It has never been approved for human use. Xylazine is dangerous to humans for a number of reasons. It can lead to dangerously low blood pressure and heart rate and slow breathing enough to be fatal. Most people have likely never heard of the substance until quite recently. Unless you work in veterinary medicine, you would be unlikely to encounter it. That was until this dangerous sedative started appearing in street drug compounds fueling a spike in overdose deaths among opioid-dependent individuals. The street drug known as “tranq” contains Xylazine as one of its active ingredients. The other ingredient in tranq is fentanyl, which was responsible for over 109,000 overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2022 alone.

Why is Xylazine So Dangerous?

By itself, Xylazine is dangerous because it can unpredictably lower blood pressure and respiration to a deadly degree. Mixing Xylazine with fentanyl (AKA Tranq) increases the risk of hypertension and respiratory arrest exponentially. 

The risks and dangers associated with Xylazine and tranq include:

  • Xylazine Overdose: A person who has overdosed on fentanyl mixed with Xylazine cannot necessarily be revived using the usual opioid overdose protocol, NARCAN. Because NARCAN (naloxone) is an opioid antagonist, it offers no defense against Xylazine, as it isn’t an opioid.
  • Respiratory Arrest:  Because Xylazine is a tranquilizer/sedative, it amplifies the respiratory suppressive effects of fentanyl. Together they are an even deadlier combination. 
  • Tissue Necrosis: One of the most alarming qualities of Xylazine is the necrotic effect seen in IV tranq users. Necrosis is the rotting of human tissue that has died and can result in serious infections which lead to amputation.

What is Tranq Exactly?

Xylazine in its pure form is virtually never found outside of veterinary medicine. Most illicit Xylazine is combined with fentanyl and the combination is commonly known as tranq. It should come as no surprise that combining a powerful animal tranquilizer considered too dangerous for human consumption with fentanyl is a recipe for disaster.  

No one is certain where tranq came from originally, but authorities point to powerful organized crime syndicates. The Sinaloa and Jalisco Cartels in Mexico are among the leading manufacturers of tranq and fentanyl. Most of the ingredients used to make both Xylazine and fentanyl are sourced from China. 

While the U.S. government has been working with Chinese customs authorities to try and stem the tide of these precursor chemical ingredients, it has proven extremely difficult even to slow the flow significantly, much less stop it.

Where is Tranq (Fentanyl and Xylazine) Found?

It is believed that tranq (Xylazine mixed with fentanyl) may have first appeared in Puerto Rico in the early 2000s. Authorities first became aware of it in the mainland U.S. when Xylazine began showing up in toxicology reports in Philadelphia in 2006. According to the DEA, The drug has been found in samples of street fentanyl in 48 out of 50 states as of 2021.

In the early 2000s, paramedics in Philadelphia and later Baltimore began to notice more and more opioid overdose victims were failing to respond to NARCAN as expected. This is what first raised a red flag that a dangerous new ingredient had entered the illegal narcotics supply in the U.S.  

As of 2022, Xylazine has been found in at least 25% of the fentanyl powder seized by the DEA and other agencies. In some parts of the country, particularly the northeast, the drug may be present in more than half of street fentanyl and the number is rising.

What is Treatment for Xylazine Addiction Like?

Xylazine is a powerful sedative not intended for human consumption. Anyone who has developed a Xylazine use disorder would have encountered the drug from an illicit source, most likely combined with fentanyl in the street drug tranq. The drug is almost never found in its pure form except in veterinary use. A client receiving treatment for Xylazine addiction at Cottonwood Tucson would likely begin in our medical detox phase of care. All clients are thoroughly evaluated and if medical detox is necessary, we mitigate any withdrawal comfort with safe and effective FDA-approved medications. Alternatively, we offer a drug-free Accudetox protocol that utilizes acupuncture to alleviate withdrawal symptoms (when clinically appropriate).

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