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DEA sounds alarm over flesh-rotting drug ‘tranq’ in almost every state’s illicit drug supply

Fentanyl laced with flesh-rotting cutting agent xylazine has seen a ‘sharp increase’ across the US, federal officials are warning.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) says the powerful sedative, also known as ‘tranq’ or ‘tranq dope’, has now been detected in 48 of 50 states. Some fear it has already reached them all.

The agency’s administrator said the drug was making the current crisis — which has already sparked record deaths — even deadlier.

Xylazine is a powerful sedative that can effectively turn patients into zombies and leave them suffering from gaping sores. Overdoses with the drug are difficult to treat because it is not an opioid, making naloxone ineffective.

The DEA says xylazine has now been detected in 48 out of 50 states in the US. A study published in December and involving 60,000 US adult drug tests showed xylazine was detected in samples from most states (pictured above)

Anne Milgram, the agency’s administrator, warned: ‘Xylazine is making the deadliest drug threat our country has ever faced, fentanyl, even deadlier.

‘DEA has seized xylazine and fentanyl mixtures in 48 of 50 states. 

‘The DEA laboratory system is reporting that in 2022 approximately 23 percent of fentanyl powder and seven percent of fentanyl pills seized contained xylazine.’

The agency did not say in its ‘public safety announcement’ in which states the drug had been detected.

But Dr Rahul Gupta, the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, believes it has already reached all 50.

At the epicenter of the xylazine epidemic is Philadelphia, where the drug has made its way into the city’s supply as a cheap and very potent cutting agent.

It is also cropping up in other cities along the east coast including New York, Massachusetts and Maine.

And is making headway along the west coast where last month it was linked to four fatalities in San Francisco, marking the first time authorities had found evidence of the drug in the city.

The DEA issued the alert over the rising use of xylazine in illicit drug supplies in a ‘public safety alert’.

The release adds: ‘The Sinaloa Cartel and Jalisco Cartel in Mexico, using chemicals largely sourced from China, are primarily responsible for the vast majority of the fentanyl that is being trafficked in communities across the United States.’

Xylazine is an animal tranquilizer developed in the 1960s to help vets working with cows, horses and sheep.

It has never been approved for use in humans but has made its way into the illicit drug supply as a more powerful sedative.

Those who take illicit drugs laced with xylazine are often left ‘knocked out’ on street corners for hours. When they finally come around, they find that the high from heroin has subsided and they need to search for their next hit.

Philadelphia is currently at the epicenter of America’s xylazine use. The drug has now made its way to almost all corners of the country.

Because of xylazine’s high potency, it raises the risk of an overdose compared to other cutting agents such as fentanyl.

The drug can also leave patients with damage to their blood vessels that leads to gaping wounds appearing on their bodies.

Some may be left unable to walk, or in need of amputations, because wounds are so severe and cut right down to the bone.

Emma Roberts, a senior director at the National Harm Reduction Coalition who has worked with xylazine patients in Puerto Rico, previously told ‘What we are seeing is very large lesions, sometimes at the site of injection and sometimes in the body.

‘If left, they can cut right through and you can see people’s bones and tendons.

‘One man I was working with couldn’t bend his wrist properly anymore because the wound had got very deep so that you could see his tendons.’

Asked how large the wounds are, she added: ‘I saw someone whose lesions were as big as their forearm, just above the wrist up until close to the elbow.’

What is xylazine?

Xylazine is a non-opioid agent that FDA originally approved in 1972 as a sedative and analgesic for use in veterinary medicine.

The drug acts as a central alpha-2- adrenergic receptor agonist in the brainstem, causing a rapid decrease in the release of norepinephrine and dopamine in the central nervous system (CNS). 

Xylazine may also bind to other CNS receptors, although further research is needed. 

Xylazine is not approved for use in humans.

Symptoms and risks 

Signs and symptoms of acute xylazine toxicity may include labored breathing, high blood pressure, a slow heart rate, hypothermia and high blood-sugar levels.

Overdoses may appear similar to that of opioids, making it difficult to distinguish.

But unlike opioids, xylazine overdoses cannot be curtailed with naloxone, the emergency opioid overdose reversal drug. 

Repeated exposure to xylazine, by injection, has been associated with severe, necrotic skin ulcerations that are distinctly different from other soft-tissue infections (e.g., cellulitis, abscesses) often associated with injection drug use. 

These ulcerations may develop in areas of the body away from the site of injection.