FDA Makes Move Against 'Zombie Dope'

Xylazine, or 'tranq', increasingly found in illicit drug mixes, is subject of new import alert
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 1, 2023 11:30 AM CST
FDA Makes Move Against 'Zombie Dope'
Deb Walker, of Chester, Vt., visits the grave of her daughter Brooke Goodwin, who died of a fatal overdose of fentanyl and xylazine, on Dec. 9, 2021, in Chester.   (AP Photo/Lisa Rathke)

The FDA is taking action to restrict unlawful imports of xylazine, an animal tranquilizer increasingly used in the illicit drug market, where it's commonly known as "tranq" or "zombie dope" due to its tendency to cause flesh to rot and die. Horror stories accompany the sedative, which is mixed with drugs including fentanyl, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine, and might not be counteracted by the opioid-targeting naloxone. In issuing an import alert for xylazine on Tuesday, the FDA "aims to prevent the drug from entering the US market for illicit purposes," per CBS News. Suspect shipments of the drug and its ingredients can now be detained without the need for an inspection or sampling.

Xylazine has been found in drug samples in 32 states, but it's especially prevalent in the Northeast. As of 2019, it was detected in 31% of those who suffered fatal overdoses involving fentanyl or heroin in Philadelphia, per the Washington Post. Xylazine is dangerous on its own, causing "serious and life-threatening effects," the FDA says, adding it can depress breathing, blood pressure, and heart rate to "critical levels," per CBS. The American Veterinary Medical Association is on board with the FDA's move, saying it will continue to work with federal agencies to maintain access to the drug "that has critically important uses in veterinary medicine," per the Post. It's used to sedate large animals like horses.

The Drug Enforcement Administration also praised the FDA's move, with Administrator Anne Milgram noting "the mixing of xylazine into other illicit drugs, particularly fentanyl, is devastating communities across the country." But how this will affect the drug supply is unclear. An FDA spokesperson says that "the source of xylazine for illicit use is not fully understood." A previous report from the DEA and Justice Department warned xylazine could be bought online from China for $6 per kilogram. "At this low price, its use as an adulterant may increase the profit for illicit drug traffickers, as its psychoactive effects allows them to reduce the amount of fentanyl or heroin used in a mixture," it read. (Read more xylazine stories.)

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