WASHINGTON — The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued an urgent public safety alert warning of a sharp increase in the amount of fentanyl mixed with the animal tranquilizer xylazine. The powerful sedative, also known as “tranq,” is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration only for veterinary use and is commonly referred to as the “zombie drug” due to its ability to cause serious wounds and even rot human tissue, leading to amputation.
According to authorities, xylazine is responsible for a growing number of overdose deaths. A report from the DEA shows that the number of xylazine-positive overdose deaths increased by 1,127% in the South, 750% in the West, 516% in the Midwest, and 103% in the Northeast from 2020 to 2021.
“Xylazine is making the deadliest drug threat our country has ever faced, fentanyl, even deadlier,” said DEA Administrator Anne Milgram. “DEA has seized xylazine and fentanyl mixtures in 48 of 50 States. The DEA Laboratory System is reporting that in 2022 approximately 23% of fentanyl powder and 7% of fentanyl pills seized by the DEA contained xylazine.”
In addition to fentanyl, authorities have also observed xylazine in increasing amounts of drug mixtures containing cocaine, heroin, and a variety of other drugs.
One concerning aspect of xylazine is that because it is not an opioid, naloxone (Narcan) does not reverse its effects. Despite this, experts still recommend administering Narcan if someone might be suffering from a drug overdose.
In addition to its “zombie” side effects, xylazine can cause dry mouth, drowsiness, hypertension, tachycardia followed by hypotension and bradycardia, hyperglycemia, reduced heart rate, hypothermia, coma, respiratory depression, and dysrhythmia. The drug can also lead to physical dependence, and some users report experiencing withdrawal symptoms that are more severe than those associated with heroin or methadone.
The DEA says drug dealers add xylazine to other drugs because the animal tranquilizer is cheap and can be easily purchased online from Chinese suppliers. It may also attract customers looking for a longer high since xylazine has many of the same effects for users as opioids, but with a longer-lasting effect than fentanyl alone.