In recent years, a concerning trend has emerged in the United States: the appearance of a dangerous drug known as “tranq dope.” This dangerous substance combines fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, with xylazine, a potent non-opioid tranquilizer commonly used for sedating large animals. The drug’s devastating impact has raised significant concerns.
From Krokodil to Tranq
In the early 2010s, there were reports of a nightmarish drug called Krokodil emerging in Russia and Eastern Europe.
Krokodil is a cheap substitute for heroin produced in makeshift laboratories.
It caused users to develop scaly skin and rotting wounds.
Fast forward to today, and a similarly dangerous drug, known as tranq dope, has made its way to America.
Since 2019, deaths linked to tranq dope have nearly quadrupled, accounting for 11% of fentanyl-related deaths as of June 2022.
White House Combat the Spread
The White House recently unveiled a plan to combat its spread, raising concerns about its impact.
A Deadly Combination
Tranq dope combines fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, with xylazine, also called “tranq,” a potent non-opioid tranquilizer commonly used to sedate large animals like horses and deer.
Every US State Affected
Initially detected by drug authorities in the early 2000s in Puerto Rico, the drug has since circulated in limited areas within the American northeast, including Philadelphia. However, it has now been found in nearly every U.S. state, and according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), local dealers likely mix it.
Cheap and Lethal
Xylazine can be purchased for as little as $6 per kilogram from Chinese websites, enabling illicit drug suppliers to maximize profits by using it to dilute more expensive fentanyl, primarily supplied by Mexican drug cartels.
Many users may be unaware if they are consuming fentanyl or tranq dope.
The assumption that fentanyl is free from xylazine is becoming riskier by the day. The DEA reported that nearly a quarter of American fentanyl powder contained xylazine in March. In Philadelphia in 2021, over 90% of fentanyl was mixed with xylazine.
Tranq dope’s effects on the body are cause for alarm. Though chemically distinct from krokodil, it impacts the body in a similar manner.
Users can develop deep, necrotic wounds in which skin and muscle decay.
These wounds are highly susceptible to infections, and in severe cases, amputations may be necessary.
Additionally, large doses can lead to loss of consciousness, making individuals more vulnerable to assault or theft.
Perhaps even more concerning is that Naloxone, the emergency treatment for a fentanyl overdose, is ineffective against non-opioids like xylazine.
Reversing the Effects
Naloxone operates on opioid receptors in the brain to reverse the effects of drugs like fentanyl, particularly suppressed breathing.
However, there are no approved antidotes for xylazine in humans.
Extra Help Required
This means that someone overdosing on tranq dope may require more than just naloxone for survival, such as additional oxygen and respiratory support.
Despite the growing threat of tranq dope, addiction experts stress that synthetic opioids remain their primary concern. Synthetic opioids continue to claim more lives each year.
Twice as Many Deaths
With around 70,000 deaths in 2021, this overtook roughly 43,000 deaths in car accidents during the same period. However, individuals using tranq dope face a higher risk of fatal overdose.
At the very least, the increasing presence of this drug complicates America’s ongoing battle against overdose deaths and further endangers drug users.
Addressing the Challenge
Authorities are taking this new challenge seriously. In February, the Food and Drug Administration announced plans to inspect imported xylazine, which is legally obtainable for veterinary purposes, and detain suspicious shipments.
Biden’s National Plan
The Biden administration’s national plan aims to reduce tranq dope-related deaths by 15% in at least three of four American census areas by 2025.
Their strategy involves standardizing and increasing tranq testing, disrupting the illicit trade—potentially through new xylazine regulations—and seeking antidotes for xylazine.
Despite these efforts, the DEA remains concerned about the continued spread of tranq dope. In Puerto Rico, the drug is sought after for its prolonged high, and there are reports suggesting a similar trend emerging in Philadelphia.
If more drug users start seeking out tranq dope, America could face an even grimmer and more complex drug-related problem.
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