Xylazine, authorized only for animals, is one ingredient in an increasingly toxic brew of illicit drugs that killed a record of nearly 107,000 people in the U.S. in 2021. It is typically mixed with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that itself has broadly infiltrated U.S. drug supply, including in supplies of cocaine and methamphetamine. Taken together, the volatile mixing means drug users often don’t know what’s in the substances they take.
Dealers may mix xylazine into fentanyl to save money, federal law-enforcement authorities said. The drug—known as “tranq” among some users—can be purchased at low prices from Chinese suppliers and offset some of the opioid in the mix.
The spike in wounds among people who use drugs in Philadelphia reflects the surge in the local supply of a compound called xylazine. A veterinary tranquilizer, xylazine, or “tranq,” exploded in recent years to the point that in 2021, it was found in more than 90% of heroin and fentanyl samples.
Just what we need, another dangerous street drug. It's called xylazine aka Tranq and is approved only as an animal sedative. But it's increasingly being used along with fentanyl, making both more dangerous. And there is no antidote.
Public health officials are sounding the alarm about xylazine, a substance that causes gruesome wounds and knocks users out for hours.
The national spread of xylazine is a public health threat. It also foreshadows the future of the overdose crisis—increasingly driven by powerful synthetic compounds mixed into potent combinations.
The animal tranquilizer xylazine, which has been linked to severe wounds and amputations, has been detected in nearly 40 states.
But experts worry that scheduling xylazine will only further contaminate the street opioid supply, which has shifted from heroin to fentanyl and now includes the addition of tranq and other synthetic drugs. They’re also concerned it could limit future research on treating xylazine’s effects.
“We’re certainly seeing a lot more wounds, and we’re seeing some severe wounds,” said Dr. Joe D’Orazio, director of medical toxicology and addiction medicine at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia. “Almost everybody is linking this to xylazine.”
A veterinary tranquilizer called xylazine is infiltrating street drugs, deepening addiction, baffling law enforcement and causing wounds so severe that some result in amputation.
The study also provides clues to why xylazine is spreading throughout the country. Fentanyl produces a powerful high, but the euphoric feelings are shorter-lived than those offered by other opioids like heroin. That means that people have to inject more frequently, which can be expensive, inconvenient, and risky. Adding xylazine, however, seems to give the fentanyl “legs,” meaning it extends the high.
Xylazine belongs to the depressant category of drugs. It’s a non-opioid sedative, pain-reliever, and muscle relaxant, and it’s commonly used in veterinary medicine
Users are developing severe wounds in illicit drug market rife with risky additives