A cheap animal tranquilizer made in China is making America’s opioid epidemic and fentanyl crisis worse.
Xylazine, or ‘Tranco’ as it’s known on the street, has been called a ‘zombie drug’ due to the lifeless state it leaves users with.
It is mixed primarily with fentanyl to create a deadly cocktail, which the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has described as ‘the deadliest threat our country has ever faced.’
There are multiple reasons for concern. It’s incredibly cheap – Newstimesuk.com found the drug at online Chinese pharmacies for less than $1 per kilogram – and because it has euphoric effects similar to some opioids, it’s highly addictive.
But xylazine has an even worse side. It causes many horrible side effects, including flesh-eating wounds and a zombified stupor known as ‘dope lean’. And – unlike fentanyl and other opioids – there is no antidote for overdose, meaning it is effectively curable.
Xylazine was first widely used in Puerto Rico in the early 2000s because it was shipped from China. By 2006, it had landed in the continental United States
Xylazine is an animal tranquilizer that was developed in the 1960s to help veterinarians treat cows, horses and sheep and other large to medium animals.
Drug traffickers in Puerto Rico began using it as a cutting agent in the early 2000s to prolong their supply of more expensive drugs like heroin and cocaine. For example, a kilogram of xylazine can be 15 times cheaper than fentanyl and 16 times cheaper than cocaine.
Xylazine has a longer duration than drugs like fentanyl, which produces a long-lasting ‘high’ in users. It also increases the intensity of euphoria experienced with other drugs.
Experts estimate that at one time, xylazine was present in 80 percent of Puerto Rico’s supply of these substances. However, within a decade, users became dependent on xylazine by itself.
By 2006, Illegal Trunks first appeared in the continental United States. At first, its presence was ‘sporadic,’ the DEA said, but it steadily increased in the mid-2010s.
Xylazine is easy to make, as it has been approved for use in animals since the 1960s, causing it to be produced on an industrial scale in Chinese labs.
Despite a recent congressional push to make xylazine a controlled substance, which would criminalize its use, the drug is still widely available online, making it easy to flood America’s East Coast.
Cases have skyrocketed. A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that monthly overdose deaths involving xylazine increased from 12 in January 2019 to 188 in June 2022. It also found that monthly fentanyl overdoses increased by 276 percent in just three years.
Online Chinese pharmacies list xylazine powder for as low as $1 per kilogram. The average cost, DEA states, is about $6-$20 per kilogram
However, these statistics only looked at 20 states, plus DC.
In a March report, the DEA reported that illegal xylazine was found in 48 of the 50 states. In 2020, 808 drug overdoses were reported in which xylazine played a role. This number will increase to 3,089 in 2021.
The biggest increase in xylazine between 2020 and 2021 is in the South, with a 193 percent jump.
The amount increased by 112 percent in the West, 61 percent in the Northeast, and only seven percent in the Midwest.
However, the DEA reports that the Northeast still has the highest amount of illegal xylazine.
The October report states, ‘It is very likely that the prevalence of xylazine has been greatly underestimated.
According to a 2022 study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, xylazine was present in about 26 percent of overdose deaths in Philadelphia, 19 percent in Maryland and 10 percent in Connecticut.
It was also found in 90 percent of Philadelphia’s heroin supply. The city’s Kensington neighborhood is known as ‘ground zero’ for the city’s drug crisis.
Between 2020 and 2021, xylazine-related overdose deaths exploded by 1,127 percent in the South, from 116 fatalities to nearly 1,500. These deaths increased by 750 percent in the West, 516 percent in the Midwest, and 103 percent in the Northeast.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that monthly overdose deaths involving xylazine increased from 12 in 2019 to 188 in June 2022. The report also found that monthly fentanyl overdoses involving xylazine increased 276 percent in just three years.
Xylazine depresses the central nervous system, causing users, such as those in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, to exhibit a zombie-like appearance.
“The presence of xylazine in illicit drug combinations and its detection in fatal overdoses may be more widespread than reported because several jurisdictions across the country may not include xylazine in forensic laboratory or toxicology testing,” the DEA wrote.
In the US, xylazine is cut into opioids like fentanyl and heroin, which have a relatively short duration, meaning users don’t stay high for long. However, xylazine has a longer duration, staying in the body for as long as eight hours.
Xylazine is now available online through Chinese marketplaces, so dealers no longer have to source it from Puerto Rico. It’s so cheap as well as widens access.
A kilogram of powder can be purchased online for less than $1, with typical prices ranging from $6 to $20.
‘At these low prices, its use as an adulterant can increase the profits of illegal drug traffickers, as its psychoactive effects allow them to reduce the amount of fentanyl or heroin used in their mixtures,’ the DEA said.
It is not clear exactly how xylazine is made. However, in many cases, liquid xylazine is cooked and made into powder form, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. From there, it is mixed with other substances or pressed into pills.
The DEA believes that xylazine can be mixed with other drugs once in the hands of dealers.
“Xylazine use across the United States may follow the pattern seen in Puerto Rico and may emerge as a drug of abuse in its own right in the future, although it is unlikely to replace fentanyl or other opioids among illicit drug users,” the DEA said.
‘It may also attract consumers who are looking for a long-term high because xylazine has similar effects to opioids for many users, but only has a longer-lasting effect than fentanyl.’
Federal authorities are now racing to solve the xylazine crisis.
Earlier this month, the White House unveiled a plan to combat the wave of xylazine-laced drugs in the United States. The Biden-Harris administration aims to reduce traffic deaths by 15 percent by 2025.
The administration is conducting more testing and data collection to develop an ‘evidence-based prevention, harm reduction and treatment’ plan that reduces the supply of the ‘six pillars’ the administration plans to adopt to respond to the growing epidemic.
The plan does not recommend limiting xylazine yet.
In February, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began a crackdown on the drug, issuing an import alert that allowed it to seize shipments of xylazine and the ingredients used to make it.
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