The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has issued a public alert warning Americans about the “sharp increase in the trafficking of fentanyl mixed with Xylazine,” an animal tranquilizer referred to on the streets as “Tranq.” The warning comes after the FDA, CDC, and multiple state agencies issued alerts about Xylazine being detected in an increasing number of illicit drug mixtures and a growing number of overdose deaths nationwide.
“Xylazine is making the deadliest drug threat our country has ever faced, fentanyl, even deadlier,” DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said. “DEA has seized Xylazine and fentanyl mixtures in 48 of 50 states. The DEA Laboratory System is reporting that in 2022 approximately 23% of fentanyl powder and 7% of fentanyl pills seized by the DEA contained Xylazine.” DEA warns that Xylazine and fentanyl drug mixtures place users at a higher risk of death.
Xylazine is not an opioid, so Narcan and Naloxone, which are known to reverse opioid overdoses successfully, do not work in reversing Xylazine overdose effects. Although the DEA, FDA, and other agencies still recommend that they be administered for suspected opioid overdoses and poisonings.
Federal and state agencies also warn that those who inject drug mixtures containing Xylazine or are exposed to it can cause severe, necrotic skin ulcerations, described as “skin rot,” which may lead to amputation. Two Mexican cartels, the Sinaloa Cartel and Jalisco New Generation Cartel (JNGC), are “using chemicals largely sourced from China,” the DEA said, which “are primarily responsible for the vast majority of the fentanyl that is being trafficked in communities across the United States.”
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 107,735 Americans died between August 2021 and August 2022 from drug poisonings, with 66% of them involving synthetic opioids like fentanyl.
Multiple states have issued warnings and their medical examiners have been screening for Xylazine in toxicology panels. According to a CDC report, Connecticut’s chief medical examiner reported that unintentional drug overdoses linked to Xylazine doubled from 2019 to 2020. Medical examiners in Vermont found that Tranq-linked overdose deaths also nearly doubled from 2021 to 2022. While Xylazine has been detected in drugs in the northeast for over a decade, increasing reports of it being detected in the west prompted agencies in California and Arizona to issue recent warnings.
According to the CDC, the greatest number of overdoses linked to Xylazine have been reported in Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Fentanyl overdoses and poisonings remain the leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 18 and 45.
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody also warned that Xylazine is a Schedule I controlled substance in Florida, meaning it’s a crime to possess or sell it. She urges everyone to never use illicit drugs, which only worsens the problem.
The DEA and multiple state agencies are working to develop a way to efficiently and quickly test for Xylazine and are publishing warnings and working with overdose prevention centers to test for it.