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What You Must Know about Xylazine (the “Tranq” Drug)

xylazine overdose treatment

An emerging drug of abuse, called xylazine, is becoming an increasing concern throughout the United States. Xylazine has been detected in an alarming number of illegal drug supplies and fatal overdose cases throughout the country. So much, in fact, that the White House, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and other organizations have released alerts about this emerging threat.

As cited by the Biden Administration, between the years 2020 and 2021, xylazine-positive overdose deaths increased by 1,127% in the south, 750% in the west, over 500% in the Midwest, and more than 100% in the northeast of the U.S. And, according to a report released last June, the monthly percentage of deaths involving fentanyl and xylazine increased 276% between January 2019 and June 2022.

Xylazine is being purchased by drug users, both knowingly and accidentally. It is being laced into other commonly-abused drugs like painkillers and heroin. It is contributing to a new overdose crisis in communities, and putting all types of illicit drug users at risk. 

If you or your loved one are using drugs illegally, it is critical that you know the facts about xylazine. The DEA has seized xylazine and fentanyl drug mixtures in 48 out of 50 states, with prominent supplies being in Philadelphia, Maryland, and Connecticut. The risk is all around us. Get educated now.

What is Xylazine?

Xylazine is a non-opioid tranquilizer, used in veterinary practice for the short-term sedation of large animals. Known as “tranq” on the streets, xylazine is not a controlled substance in the United States and not approved for human use, despite its growing popularity. Xylazine is classified as a central nervous system depressant; those who use it experience decreased CNS activity, drowsiness and amnesia, as well as a slew of other dangerous side effects (especially when taken in combination with other drugs).

Xylazine is most commonly found in liquid form, the form used by veterinarians, and can be purchased illicitly in vials or preloaded syringes. However, the DEA has seen a rise in powdered xylazine, which is not associated with veterinary treatments and not at all monitored for safety or legitimacy. 

Why are People Using Xylazine?

Xylazine is used by people both knowingly and unknowingly. It is often used in tandem with other drugs like the dangerous opioid, fentanyl.

Some users take xylazine intentionally, as the drug can lengthen the euphoric effects of opioid drugs like fentanyl and heroin, essentially extending the “high” that users experience.

Many, however, use xylazine unknowingly because it is laced into other drugs. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), xylazine is increasingly being used as an adulterant in a variety of illegal drugs, from heroin to cocaine. Drug manufacturers and traffickers are mixing xylazine into drugs to increase their weight and make larger profits, and users are purchasing these laced drugs unknowingly.

In the illegal drug market, xylazine is extremely cheap to buy – making it attractive for drug dealers. As such, it is being mixed into heroin, fentanyl, and other drugs as a cheap way to enhance the psychoactive effects of the drug being purchased and increase profits on drug sales. Unfortunately, this is extremely dangerous for consumers.

Despite the reason behind xylazine abuse, one thing is clear: The tranq drug is being used in combination with other drugs. According to the NIDA, the majority of overdose deaths linked to xylazine (and fentanyl) also involved additional substances like cocaine, heroin, benzodiazepines, gabapentin, methadone, prescription opioids, and alcohol. This is causing a polydrug overdose epidemic in the U.S.

What are the Side Effects of Xylazine?

Because xylazine is an emerging drug of abuse, it has yet to be studied in drug trials. However, users of xylazine report a number of adverse side effects from using the drug. While it’s true that xylazine has the potential to lengthen the euphoric effects of drugs, it also has the potential to cause the following symptoms in humans:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Respiratory depression
  • Dangerously low blood pressure
  • Dangerously slow heart rate
  • Sedation or extreme drowsiness
  • Amnesia
  • Hypertension
  • Tachycardia
  • Bradycardia
  • Hyperglycemia
  • Hypothermia
  • Coma
  • Dysrhythmia
  • Soft tissue injuries and infections from injecting the drug
  • Physical dependence or addiction to drug
  • Severe withdrawal symptoms, including seizures or sharp chest pains
  • Overdose death

The side effects of xylazine worsen when used in combination with other drugs. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “Taking opioids in combination with xylazine and other central nervous system depressants—like alcohol or benzodiazepines—increases the risk of life-threatening overdose.” The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) echoes this sentiment, explaining:

“When combined with fentanyl or other synthetic opioids, xylazine can increase the potential for fatal overdoses, as the similarity in pharmacological effects can further reduce the already decreased respiratory function. Overdoses associated with xylazine may be more difficult to identify in clinical settings, as they often appear similar to opioid overdoses and may not be included in routine drug screening tests. Xylazine has no approved antidote for human use, and as xylazine is not an opioid, naloxone does not reverse its effects.”

What to Do if You Suspect a Xylazine Overdose

As the DEA articulates above, xylazine is not an opioid drug and therefore does not respond to the antidote naloxone (also known as Narcan) that is used for opioid overdoses. With that in mind, experts still recommend administering naloxone in any suspected overdose. Xylazine is often mixed with other drugs, and using naloxone can still address and reverse the effect of any used opioids, preventing death. 

It is also recommended that you call 911 immediately if you suspect any drug overdose. This is always a medical emergency and should be treated as such. Stay with the person until first responders arrive. And again, if you have naloxone on hand, administer it as a protective measure. This will not cause harm even if opioids were not used or involved in the overdose.

Additionally, as you wait for first responders to arrive, give rescue breaths. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains that rescue breaths are especially helpful for people who have used xylazine, as the drug directly slows down a person’s breathing. To give rescue breaths:

  1. Make sure the person’s airway is clear,
  2. Place one hand on their chin,
  3. Tilt their head back,
  4. Pinch the nose closed,
  5. Place your mouth over theirs to make a seal,
  6. Give two slow breaths.
  7. Watch for the person’s chest to rise and follow up with one breath every five seconds.

More information can be found from the CDC here.

Spreading the Facts About Xylazine

The risks associated with xylazine abuse are growing exponentially. More and more people are dying from this veterinary drug. If you or someone you know is using drugs, educate yourself on the risks of xylazine as well as illicit drug abuse. Spread awareness about the drug. The dangers far outweigh the benefits, with many drugs of abuse (including cocaine and street-sold painkillers) now being laced with dangerous drugs like fentanyl and xylazine. The risk of fatal overdose is far higher than it was in the past.

If you or someone you love uses drugs and is at risk of overdose or simply purchasing an altered batch of drugs, we recommend:

  • Carrying naloxone in case of overdose.
  • Testing drugs before use, using test strips that detect traces of fentanyl and xylazine.
  • Finding professional help to overcome any dependence on drugs or alcohol. If you are a loved one, do research within your community and connect the at-risk person with the care they deserve. Rehabilitation programs and counseling services are available to you.

If you do not know where to turn for professional support, know that Turnbridge is here for you. Turnbridge is a recognized drug treatment provider with evidence-based programs for young men, young women, and teenagers struggling with substance abuse. We are just one call away at 877-581-1793.