DEA Calls Xylazine a Public Safety ThreatLindsay Chambers
Last month, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration issued an alert warning Americans of an alarming new chapter in the nationwide fentanyl crisis. You may already know fentanyl has contributed to thousands of opioid overdose deaths in recent years, as states continue to limit prescription pain medications. Now, drug traffickers are adding a veterinary tranquilizer called xylazine to their supply, making its impact even more devastating.
What Is Xylazine?
Fentanyl causes a rapid high that can easily overwhelm a user’s system and cause an overdose. It is up to 100 times more potent than morphine, and even a tiny dose can suppress essential bodily functions like breathing. While fentanyl was previously the most significant public health threat related to illicit drug use, mixing it with xylazine has increased the stakes.
According to DEA administrator Anne Milgram, the agency has seized xylazine/fentanyl mixtures in 48 out of 50 states. The combination of fentanyl and xylazine – nicknamed “tranq dope” – puts people at a higher risk of suffering a fatal poisoning. Because xylazine is not an opioid, it does not respond to naloxone, which is the standard medication administered to reverse a fentanyl overdose. Long-term xylazine use causes festering skin ulcers and tissue death that can lead to amputation if left untreated.
How Common Is Tranq Dope?
Some epidemiologists theorize that xylazine rose to prominence during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when people who were already addicted to opioids discovered that it was cheaper and often easier to obtain than heroin. Because the drug is not on the DEA’s list of controlled substances, it isn’t subject to the same strict monitoring as substances like cocaine and morphine. However, Florida has listed xylazine as a controlled substance at the state level.
Federal law enforcement agencies have not tracked xylazine’s use and misuse as closely as they do with other drugs. For example, hospitals and state medical examiners don’t routinely test for the presence of xylazine, making it impossible to get an accurate picture of its prevalence throughout the U.S.
While there is ample research on opioids, there is almost none on the effects of xylazine in humans. Still, we know that fentanyl and xylazine bind to different brain receptors, which can amplify both substances’ effects and make tranq dope highly addictive. Despite the known dangers of tranq dope, people keep using it to avoid severe withdrawal symptoms like migraines, double vision, nausea, numb fingers and toes, sweating and anxiety.
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