Tranq dope, the street drug linked to severe skin wounds and amputations, has spread to at least 48 states, the Drug Enforcement Administration said in a public safety alert issued Monday.
The DEA said there’s been a “sharp increase” in the trafficking of tranq, which is usually a combination of fentanyl and the animal traquilizer xylazine. Xylazine is not approved for human use in the U.S. but it is not a federally scheduled drug.
The agency said it has seized xylazine and fentanyl mixtures in 48 of 50 states and that last year, 23 percent of fentanyl powder and 7 percent of fentanyl pills seized contained xylazine. Dr. Rahul Gupta, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, previously told CNN that tranq is in all 50 states.
“Xylazine is making the deadliest drug threat our country has ever faced, fentanyl, even deadlier,” said DEA Administrator Ann Milgram in the alert, which noted people who inject tranq “can develop severe wounds, including necrosis—the rotting of human tissue—that may lead to amputation.”
This is the DEA’s first public safety alert about tranq, following up on a report issued in October. It comes as government agencies and health officials are ramping up their response to the influx of tranq in the drug supply.
The FDA recently issued an “import alert”, allowing agents to seize shipments of xylazine without needing to physically examine the shipments.
Last March, VICE News reported that tranq users in Philadelphia were suffering from severe wounds on their skin—even in places where they weren’t injecting drugs—and some had even had their fingers and toes amputated. In addition to the wounds, tranq overdoses are more difficult to reverse because xylazine is not an opioid and doesn’t respond to naloxone—the medication that reverses opioid overdoses. (People having a suspected overdose should still be given naloxone to deal with any opioids in their system.) As VICE News reported in November, most rehab facilities and hospitals do not test for xylazine and are not equipped to help people withdrawing from tranq. Unlike with opioids, there is no detox protocol for tranq users.
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National legislators are also taking notice of the threat to the drug supply. Speaking in upstate New York earlier this month, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, announced a three-pronged approach to combating tranq, which includes getting the Food and Drug Administration to track down sources of illicit xylazine, as well as more funding to law enforcement agencies and mental health and substance abuse programs, including testing for xylazine. Some House Republicans have also asked the DEA to schedule xylazine.
The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy also discussed xylazine at a meeting about emerging threats in January.
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