DEA warns of increase in 'zombie drug' trafficking

The federal agency alerted citizens that deaths from a mixture of fentanyl and xylazine increased fivefold in the last year.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) warned of an increase in the seizure of the drug known as "tranq," which caused more than 100,000 deaths between 2021 and 2022 in the U.S. This narcotic, often called a "zombie drug," consists of a mixture of fentanyl and xylazine, which is a non-opioid sedative authorized only for veterinary use in large animals such as horses or cows.

In a statement, DEA Director Anne Milgram warned of the major health threat posed by tranq and shared data from the previous year:

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), overdose deaths have skyrocketed over the past two decades, increasing fivefold. Between August 2021 and August 2022, 66% of drug-induced deaths were related to the use of opioids such as fentanyl or tranq.

Xylazine has a potent sedative effect. When mixed with fentanyl, it is more addictive, and it acts faster in the body. In addition to drowsiness, tranq also causes hypertension, tachycardia and injuries to the soft tissues of the skin, causing the skin to rot, which can require amputation of the affected areas.

Easily accessible and Narcan-resistant

The DEA noted that xylazine has been "detected in a growing number of overdose deaths." In addition, the agency reported that it is easily for traffickers to distribute because it is sold legally at low cost on the internet and in veterinary pharmacies:

Xylazine, reported as an adulterant in an increasing number of illicit drug mixtures, has also been detected in a growing number of overdose deaths. It is commonly encountered in combination with fentanyl but has also been detected in mixtures containing cocaine, heroin, and a variety of other drugs.

The combination of this animal sedative with fentanyl, cocaine, heroin and other drugs can be lethal. Perhaps most alarming is that there is no antidote to reverse an overdose. Because tranq is not an opioid, it is resistant to Narcan (naloxone), the drug used to treat opioid overdoses.