FDA announces crackdown on street drug known as ‘tranq’

The Food and Drug Administration has announced that it’s cracking down on the illegal importation of xylazine — or, as it’s known on the streets, “tranq.” The sedative is an animal tranquilizer that officials say is being mixed with drugs like fentanyl and heroin. Its intended use is primarily for horses and deer.

“I don’t know why anyone would want to try this in humans, it’s a terrible idea,” Dr. James Beckman, an equine veterinarian, said. “It would take just a tiny amount of xylazine to be fatal for humans because a 1,200-pound horse only takes a couple of cc’s.”

Dr. Richard Ries, the director of addictions at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine, said that right now in Washington, about 1-2% of people entering treatment have xylazine in their systems and between 1-10% of tests done in emergency rooms are showing positive results for xylazine.

“It looks more like 20-30% of the overdoses on the east coast are fentanyl plus xylazine,” Dr. Ries said. “So just like fentanyl when it started there and then moved west, and we’re starting to catch up with fentanyl.” Dr. Ries explained that xylazine makes the drugs it’s mixed with seem more potent.

“Not so much as an ecstatic high that you get from an injection of heroin, but more just like a profound hit of something that changes your mental status and puts you down,” he said.

The effects of it can be life-changing and cause rotting wounds on the skin.

“Xylazine makes blood vessels constrict, and if it gets into the tissue surrounding blood vessels it can cause tissue death and deadly soft tissue ulcer,” said Dr. Jeffrey Singer, senior fellow in health policy studies at the Cato Institute. “Some also become so severe or so severely infected that surgeons must perform life-saving limb amputations.”

Because xylazine is a sedative and not an opioid, it resists standard overdose reversal treatments. If someone overdoses on an opiate mixed with xylazine, administering naloxone or NARCAN may not save them.

“So the ER crews and the emergency crews and the police and others need to start artificially breathing the person because the naloxone alone isn’t doing it,” Dr. Ries said. Alongside the push by the FDA to crack down on illegal importation of xylazine, there’s now a push to classify it as a controlled substance, which would provide additional tools for law enforcement and bring stricter punishments.

“Obviously if there’s less of the product around, the better, but we’ve been struggling with the basic semi full of methamphetamine and trucks full of fentanyl seemingly getting through the border,” Dr. Ries said.

He also added that the best way to deal with this is for people to get treatment and the help they need. The University of Washington offers treatment options for those needing help with addiction.