'Tranq' Is Making Fentanyl Scarier—and More Grotesque

The animal sedative, increasingly used as a cutting agent, causes skin to blacken and die
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 10, 2023 9:25 AM CST
'Tranq' Is Making Fentanyl Scarier—and More Grotesque
   (Getty Images / Darwin Brandis)

Veterinarians know it as xylazine; some users know it as "zombie dope," and Jan Hoffman's piece for the New York Times makes it clear why. As one user put it, "my arms were dying." That's no exaggeration. The animal tranquilizer—most commonly referred to as "tranq" and typically added to fentanyl as a cutting agent—has been making its way into America's drug supply for the past few years, particularly in the Northeast. Those who inject it suffer gnarly wounds that produce dead, blackened tissue and can require amputation. As Hoffman writes of one user in Philadelphia, "Beneath patches of blackened tissue, exposed white tendons and pus, the sheared flesh was hot and red. ... Fearful that injecting in a fresh site could create a new wound, she reluctantly shoots into her festering forearm."

But the scourge goes beyond the grotesque wounds. Tranq is a sedative, not an opioid. So if a user ODs on a drug containing it, Narcan has no impact on that part of the drug cocktail. And the withdrawal is a brutal one that causes users to continue to turn to tranq. It would be hard to avoid it even if they wanted to: Less than 10% of dope samples recently tested in Philadelphia were free of the drug. "It's too late for Philly," an outreach worker with Prevention Point Philadelphia tells Hoffman. "Philly's supply is saturated. If other places around the country have a choice to avoid it, they need to hear our story." (Read more of the story here.)

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