The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is sounding the alarm about a sharp increase in the trafficking of fentanyl mixed with the animal tranquilizer xylazine.
“Xylazine is making the deadliest drug threat our country has ever faced, fentanyl, even deadlier.” — DEA Administrator Anne Millgram
Xylazine, also known as “tranq,” is a powerful sedative approved for veterinary use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“Xylazine is making the deadliest drug threat our country has ever faced, fentanyl, even deadlier,” said DEA Administrator Anne Milgram in a news release. “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.”
Xylazine and fentanyl drug mixtures place users at a higher risk of suffering fatal drug poisonings. Because xylazine is not an opioid, naloxone (Narcan) does not reverse its effects. However, experts recommend administering naloxone if someone appears to be suffering from drug poisoning.
According to the CDC, 107,735 Americans died between August 2021 and August 2022 from drug poisonings, with 66% of those deaths involving synthetic opioids like fentanyl.
Tranq Can Lead to Amputations
People who inject drug mixtures containing xylazine also can develop severe wounds, including necrosis — the rotting of human tissue—that may lead to amputation.
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, the DEA says.
White House Stops Short of New Restrictions on Xylazine
Federal officials on Tuesday called for more testing and research on xylazine, but they stopped short of recommending new restrictions on the veterinary medication.
A six-point plan from the White House’s drug control office aims to scale up testing, treatment, and efforts to intercept illegal shipments of xylazine from China and Mexico.
In the report released Tuesday, drug czar Dr. Rahul Gupta said administration officials will “explore” making xylazine a scheduled drug, subject to regulatory restrictions similar to opioids and amphetamines.
While some states have restricted the drug, those efforts have faced pushback from veterinarians, farmers, and others who regularly work with it. Several bills in Congress aim to tighten xylazine’s availability without limiting its legitimate use in sedating horses, sheep, and other animals.
The plan does not include new federal funding. However, President Joe Biden’s most recent drug control budget called for $46 billion to expand addiction treatment and disrupt illegal drug supplies.
(Associated Press contributed to this report.)