‘Tranq,’ a Veterinary Drug, Is Worsening the Fentanyl Crisis
Users are developing severe wounds in illicit drug market rife with risky additives
A veterinary tranquilizer that can cause serious wounds for regular users is spreading menace within the illicit drug supply.
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. Its presence in the drug supply is part of the arms race between criminals seeking to enhance their products and authorities trying to disrupt the market. Public-health authorities are working on ways to monitor the constantly changing drug market.
For users, xylazine can also lengthen a high—with serious risks. The overdose-reversal drug naloxone that can be critical to saving fentanyl users doesn’t work against xylazine. And users can become physically dependent on xylazine in addition to fentanyl, complicating treatment.
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