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Xylazine or “Tranq”-tainted fentanyl use growing in Pennsylvania. What is it and why is it so dangerous?

Animal tranquilizer can have devastating impact on a user's body

  • Scott LaMar
vial with clear drug solution and a syringe

vial with clear drug solution and a syringe

Airdate: July 14th, 2023

Most drug overdose deaths in the U.S. involve fentanyl, which is a hundred times more powerful than heroin. Now, Fentanyl is being mixed with the animal tranquilizer Xylazine known on the street as “Tranq.” It’s a tranquilizer that is usually used on large animals like horses.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported two weeks ago that the monthly percentage of illegally manufactured fentanyl-involved deaths with Xylazine detected increased 276% between January 2019 and June 2022.

Just this week, the White House released a National Response Plan that addressed the “emerging threat of fentanyl combined with Xylazine.”

Dr. Asif Ilyas, President of the Rothman Orthopaedic Institute Foundation for Opioid Research & Education was on The Spark and explained what it is and why it’s being mixed with fentanyl, “It’s not your traditional opioid and sedative. It can be found and purchased as well as produced illicitly. It has a powder and a solution form. It is mixed with fentanyl, which is typically in a powder form. So you can’t tell by looking at your your fentanyl whether it has it or not, but it’s being mixed together because it does a couple of things. It prolongs the euphoric effect of fentanyl. So fentanyl is a typically short, euphoric event.”

Xylazine can do major damage to the human body, including leaving drug users with severe skin ulcers, soft-tissue wounds and necrosis — sometimes described as rotting skin — that can lead to amputation. Dr. Ilyas said the wounds can be difficult to treat,”It’s acidic, so there’s a burning component to it too. It’s a vasoconstrictor, so there’s less blood flow to an area where you inject. So when you inject an area, most often arms and legs like forearms and legs, the area around where you inject it essentially necros. And there are some absolutely gnarly wounds that people are showing up with in the emergency room. And those who continue to keep injecting can advance to the point where there’s muscle necrosis, bone necrosis, bone loss. And obviously, the need for amputation. But what’s really challenging is when patients present with these wounds from Xylazine and fentanyl, what do you do? Because the treatment is to do breed and skin graft, which is sounds simple, but it’s fairly involved. There’s multiple stages of surgical treatment and extensive wound care. But if the individual continues to inject, all of those resources are spent and wasted and the ultimate graft and all the work done can be lost.”

Dr. Ilyas said there are more overdoses of fentanyl laced with Xylazine across the country. He added that policy makers on both the state and federal level are taking action.


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