Drug and Alcohol - Opioid Addiction - Trends and Statistics

Xylazine: How Does “Tranq Dope” Affect People?

What is Tranq Dope?

"Tranq Dope" is the latest IV drug use risk. A mix of xylazine and opioids, it's devastating users and communities. Learn more in our blog.

Its users have been described as the walking dead.

One of the chief signs of the drug’s use is the smell from horrific injuries such as abscesses and sores.

First showing up in Puerto Rico in the 2000s, the animal tranquilizer xylazine has increasingly contaminated street drug supplies on the east coast of the US. Known as “tranq,” “tranq dope,” or “zombie drug” due to the injuries it causes, xylazine has become the most common addition to street opioids in Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Department of Public Health says 90% of the opioid samples found on the street in the city contain xylazine.

In early 2023, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) restricted the unlawful importation of xylazine in an attempt to reduce the increasing harm the drug is causing. However, a study published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine found xylazine was present in at least 25 states. Xylazine seems to follow the lead set by fentanyl as another extreme danger of opioid abuse.

What Is Xylazine / Tranq Dope?

Xylazine was first developed in the 1960s as a treatment for hypertension, although it had harmful side effects. Later in the decade, the drug reentered the market as a sedative and painkiller for veterinary use in dogs, cats, horses, and other large mammals. Many veterinarians combine xylazine with other drugs such as ketamine as an anesthetic.

Starting in the early 2000s, xylazine started showing up in drug markets in Puerto Rico. t’s unclear how this developed, although some studies have examined how veterinary drugs became recreational drugs on the island.

It’s worth pointing out that xylazine is not an opioid drug, although it has similar effects when abused. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, xylazine is available for purchase through distributors and veterinary supply companies. The drug is also available for purchase legally on the web in liquid and powder form. The DEA also states that a kilogram of powdered xylazine can be purchased for $6 to $20 dollars.

Why Is Tranq Dope So Harmful?

Xylazine is chiefly infamous for the injuries it causes its users. Abscesses are common complications of IV drug use. An abscess is a skin injury caused by an infection. Full of pus (dead white blood cells used by the body to fight infection), bacteria, dirt, and other debris, an abscess needs to be opened and drained by a physician to be treated properly.

IV drug use often takes place in highly unhygienic places. IV drug users often reuse unsterile needles, which contributes to abscess formation. Needle sharing is also very common, which in addition to abscesses, brings a risk of bloodborne diseases such as hepatitis C and HIV.

As for xylazine, the drug isn’t intended for human use, and may also contribute to abscess formation. In a study from the Journal of Urban Health in 2012, researchers discovered almost 40% of the individuals studied had skin injuries such as ulcers and lesions for xylazine abuse. Whether this is due to the drug itself, the drugs it may have been mixed with, or other issues isn’t clear. Very little research has been done on the effects xylazine abuse has on humans.

This leads to perhaps the chief reason xylazine is so harmful: so much about xylazine and how it works in the human body hasn’t been studied in detail. Xylazine’s effects, interactions with other drugs, and more are still largely unknown. Moreover, many people who take xylazine may not understand what they’re taking.

Like fentanyl, xylazine is used as a cutting agent for heroin, cocaine, and other drugs. This means people get exposed unintentionally to this extremely dangerous drug and another reason why drug use is so risky.

Finally, as xylazine is not an opioid, there currently is no way to reverse a xylazine overdose. Like opioids, xylazine can slow down breathing until a person suffocates. Naloxone (Narcan) does not reverse the effects of xylazine. That’s not to say naloxone isn’t useless, however – if xylazine has been mixed with an opioid such as heroin or fentanyl, Narcan can still reverse the effects of the opioid, buying a person time before they overdose.

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What Are the Effects of Tranq Dope?

As an anesthetic, xylazine behaves similarly to other drugs in its class. Xylazine has many of the same effects on neurotransmitters as opioid drugs do, causing people to experience muscle relaxation, sedation, and perhaps even euphoria.

As we’ve written, xylazine is not approved for human consumption. During its initial trials in the 1960s, it was found to have harmful effects on people when used. These effects include:

  • Low blood pressure (Hypotension)

  • Respiratory depression: Dangerously slowed, labored breathing

  • A slowed heart rate (bradycardia)

  • Coma

Many of these symptoms are the same symptoms that contribute to lethal drug overdoses. Also, it’s unclear why xylazine causes horrific injuries when it’s used. In a press release, the FDA described xylazine injuries as “severe skin wounds and patches of dead and rotting tissue that easily become infected and, if left untreated, may lead to amputation. These wounds can develop in areas of the body away from the injection site and may become life-threatening.”

Reports from areas where tranq dope use is common, such as Philadelphia’s Kensington district, are gruesome, describing skin lesions, abscesses, and even amputations. Like so much about xylazine, it is not clearly understood why xylazine causes such awful injuries.

What Are the Dangers of IV Drug Use?

IV (intravenous) drug use is extremely dangerous and can lead to a range of serious health problems, including abscesses, infections, blood clots, and overdoses. Xylazine-laced street drugs pose an even greater risk when used intravenously due to the xylazine's ability to cause respiratory depression which can result in death.

In addition, xylazine abuse has been linked to numerous other long-term health issues such as liver damage, kidney disease, and neurological damage. The dangers associated with xylazine-laced street drugs are heightened due to the unpredictable levels of xylazine found in each batch of drugs.

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How Do Street Drugs Get Contaminated with Xylazine and Fentanyl?

Most xylazine-laced street drugs are created when xylazine or other opioid drugs are mixed with heroin or other opioids before it is sold on the streets. This happens when xylazine is either added to the drug directly or when xylazine-contaminated substances such as baking soda, laxative powder, and other materials are used as cutting agents.

Unfortunately, fentanyl has also been found in some xylazine-laced street drugs. Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is many times more potent than heroin and can be fatal in large doses. It is unclear how xylazine and fentanyl become mixed together, but it could be due to improper storage of xylazine-laced street drugs or careless preparation of batches containing xylazine and fentanyl.

How Is Xylazine Addiction Treated?

Currently, there isn’t an established method of treating xylazine addiction. There are, however, ways to treat addiction to drugs often mixed with xylazine, including heroin and fentanyl. The first step to treating any addiction, including xylazine addiction, is drug detox.

During drug detox, harmful substances like tranq dope are allowed to leave the system in a safe, controlled manner. It’s always best to detox from drugs with professionals – withdrawal symptoms can be intense and medically complex. Detoxing from drugs with medical professionals ensures safety and comfort. Symptoms of drug withdrawal are always easier to handle with help.

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Tranq Dope Withdrawal: A Timeline

Again, little is known about xylazine withdrawal. Some users describe it as being far worse than opioid withdrawal, with effects lasting around two weeks. As for a timeline, a study published in 2022 in the Journal of Addiction Medicine examined a 29-year-old who was using both opioids and xylazine. Detoxing in an intensive care unit, the patient was described as being free from withdrawal symptoms by the fourth day of withdrawal.

If nothing else, it’s an example of why drug detox should always be done with medical supervision.

What Happens After Drug Detox?

Ideally, drug detox should always follow up with drug rehab. As important as drug detox is, it’s really only the first step in recovery. All drug detox does is clear the body of addictive substances in a safe fashion. Learning to live without drugs like tranq dope is another challenge entirely.

Drug rehab uses proven, evidence-based methods to teach people how to manage their addiction and live a life free from substance abuse. A person in drug rehab is able to examine the emotional and social causes driving their substance abuse, learning healthy coping mechanisms that don’t require dangerous substances like xylazine.

After drug detox, most people enter an inpatient drug rehab. During this level of care, a person continues the same closely-monitored treatment they experienced in drug detox while participating in various forms of therapy. Also, inpatient drug rehab allows a person to manage substance cravings, recover from the stresses of drug detox, and stabilize any medications they may be prescribed.

Outpatient drug rehab is the next step. Outpatient rehab is less intensive than inpatient rehab; in general, a person no longer lives at their drug rehab facility. Instead, they either live at home or explore alternative housing such as a sober living home. For most, outpatient drug rehab acts as a way to integrate back into regular life while they recover from drug and alcohol addiction.

Outpatient drug rehab generally consists of three levels of care:

  • Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP). A PHP is a sort of bridge between inpatient and outpatient care. During PHP, a person spends much of the day at their drug rehab, participating in group therapy, individual therapy, and even outside activities.

  • Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP). An IOP is the ideal transition into independent living. During this level of care, people spend only part of the day at their drug rehab, allowing them to look for work, start a new career, or further their education. Many drug rehabs offer occupational programming, like resume help, job interview coaching, and more.

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Tranq Dope Is Highly Dangerous. Get Treated for IV Drug Use at The Edge Treatment Center

Like fentanyl, xylazine is just another danger of IV opioid abuse. Injecting drugs is easily the most dangerous form of substance abuse, with serious injuries, chronic disease, and fatal drug overdose among the many risks. It’s also entirely possible to be unknowingly exposed to xylazine due to drug contamination.

Why risk it?

Opioid abuse can feel like an unbeatable challenge, but it isn’t. The Edge Treatment Center provides expert, evidence-based care for opioid addiction. We’ll help you find a drug detox center and inpatient rehab for your needs and budget. The Edge maintains trusted relationships with many of the US’s best drug treatment facilities, and we’ll be in your corner every step of the way.

Once you enter our outpatient drug rehab, we’ll help you build on your successes in recovery, helping you leave tranq dope in your past. With The Edge, you’ll be able to build a life without drug use, creating a happier life for yourself.

Want to learn more about xylazine abuse? Contact The Edge Treatment Center today.

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If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, there is hope. Our team can guide you on your journey to recovery. Call us today.

Written by

brian-mooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

jeremy-arztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

Drug and Alcohol

Opioid Addiction

Trends and Statistics

March 8, 2023