Xylazine is approved in the U.S. for use in cows and horses. It began flooding the illicit drug market in recent years, with dealers often cutting it with banned substances like cocaine and heroin or with opioids like fentanyl, the lethally potent synthetic opioid that kills tens of thousands of Americans every year. (Related: Skin-rotting animal tranquilizer drug known as "tranq" spreads all over US.)
Spreading all over the U.S. earlier this year, it has since inundated Los Angeles, with local news crews capturing dozens of people in the city's streets high on the drug.
The Los Angeles County Health Department, along with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), have issued warnings about the spread of xylazine. Specifically, the DEA has warned how xylazine is often mixed with fentanyl and its effects somehow can't be reversed by Narcan, a drug that specifically reverses or reduces the effects of opioids.
"Xylazine is making the deadliest drug threat our country has ever faced – fentanyl – even deadlier," warned DEA Administrator Anne Milgram.
Statistics indicate that xylazine-related overdose deaths in the U.S. are on the rise. In Pennsylvania alone, tranq-related overdose deaths increased from two percent in 2015 to 26 percent in 2020.
Similar rates of overdose deaths connected to tranq have been reported in states like Connecticut and Maryland, where 10 percent and 19 percent of drug overdoses in 2020 involved xylazine, respectively.
According to officials from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office, they are now taking more concrete steps to track the presence of xylazine in confiscated drugs. The reason it has not ranked higher on the sheriff's office's radar in the past is because it technically isn't an illegal substance.
When crime lab analysts detect xylazine in other illicit substances, authorities tend to focus on the other substances rather than on the animal tranquilizer even though its presence is what makes these other illicit substances all the more deadly.
"It's really gruesomely disfiguring people," warned DEA Special Agent Bill Bodner in an interview with KTLA. "It's much more likely to stop someone from breathing and the things that come along with xylazine, it's a vasoconstrictor. So, when you're injecting it, it's actually reducing blood circulation."
In Los Angeles, demand for tranq's "rollercoaster" high has surged in recent weeks, alarming doctors and local care advocates alike.
Shawn, a resident of Los Angeles' impoverished Skid Row neighborhood, said in an interview with the New York Post that he has mixed tranq with other drugs on multiple occasions.
"Your heart is pounding really, really, really fast, but you can't move," said Shawn. "It's like, it's just crazy. I don't want to sound like I'm saying, 'It's the bomb,' but it's an amazing effect when it hits your bloodstream. It does something to your mind and there is no pain. Like you're riding a roller coaster and there's no pain."
"I've never seen anything like what we're dealing with right now," said Cary Quashen, a local addiction expert for Action Family Counseling, a drug addiction rehabilitation organization.
Quashen warned how xylazine is known to have severe effects, including disfiguring people who develop sores that rot internally, which can lead to limb amputations in some cases, and is the main reason why tranq is often referred to as a zombie drug.
"We had a woman come in and her sister had passed away from a fentanyl overdose," recalled Quashen. "But not only was it a fentanyl overdose, [but] her skin was starting to rot, the muscles in her leg and her arm. So, that's a sure sign of xylazine."
Shawn warned that, despite the adverse effects, he sees tranq as becoming much more mainstream.
"It's like when ecstasy hit. In the beginning, the only group of people who would do that were people that went to raves. And then that exploded. And then Molly [MDMA], and now fentanyl. And now fentanyl mixed with other things like tranq," said Shawn. "It doesn't end.
Learn more about the spread of illicit and deadly substances in the U.S. at Addiction.news.
Watch this news broadcast from KESQ discussing tranq in detail.
This video is from the channel The Willow on Brighteon.com.