Commonly known as Tranq, Tranq-Dope or Zombie Drug, the animal tranquilizer Xylazine has been linked to increasing overdoses in New England among people who use illicit street drugs. Now it’s been found in Southern California.
“We had four overdoses in San Francisco that led to death. There have been positive drug samples as close as Orange County,” said Dr. Sid Puri, associate medical director of prevention at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, division of Substance Abuse Prevention and Control.
Xylazine is the name of an animal tranquilizer
that is being used to lace designer drugs like fentanyl and other opioids. It works on different receptors in the brain than opioids to cause sedation and muscle relaxation as well as prolonging or intensifying the high from other substances. When mixed with other central nervous system depressants such as alcohol or sedatives, Xylozine augments the sedation and slows breathing which can lead to a fatal overdose.
The drug is approved for use in animals by the Food and Drug Administration, but not in humans. It’s commonly used by veterinarians.
“When they did human studies on it, they decided it wasn't appropriate for human use because it lowered our blood pressure, our heart rate, and our breathing rates to dangerously low levels that could lead to death,” Puri said.
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To combat its proliferation, the
FDA banned imports of Xylazine
at the end of February, but it remains “quite affordable online,” Puri said.
It comes in a clear liquid that is cooked down into a powder form and is mixed with illicit opioids or pressed into counterfeit pills such as Norco, Percocet, Vicodin, or sedatives such as Xanax.
Xylazine also restricts blood flow to the skin.
“So if there's a cut, if there's a wound, the blood flow isn't going to get to the skin in order to heal it. And so these wounds get a lot worse. We have ulcerations, abscesses, really deep wounds that can get through tendons to expose the bone,” Puri said.
The deep, unhealing wounds can happen no matter where it’s injected and appear even if it’s snorted or smoked. Infections are common and can lead to amputations.
Unlike fentanyl, there are no test strips to determine if Xylazine is present. It’s also not an opioid, so it can’t be reversed by Naloxone, the medication that reverses opioid overdoses.
“But I would still encourage people to use Naloxone because what we're seeing is that Xylazine and opioids, including fentanyl, often travel together,” Puri said. “So Naloxone can reverse the part of the overdose that was caused by fentanyl to at least hopefully restore breathing, which is the most important thing to reverse during an overdose because three to five minutes without oxygen and your brain is going to start to die.”
Puri said Xylozine could follow the same pattern as fentanyl and crop up in more recreational drugs like cocaine or MDMA, though he’s unaware of that happening.
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