Tranq: the new 'zombie drug' following in the footsteps of fentanyl

The substance causes serious skin injuries that can lead to amputation. It has spread to almost 40 states, and it is resistant to Narcan.

A new drug has put the country on alert. It is called "tranq," also known as xylazine, which is a non-opioid sedative approved only for veterinary use in large animals such as horses or cows. In some cases it is combined with fentanyl, a deadly opioid.

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) of San Francisco stated that its use along with other drugs has already caused at least four overdose deaths in the city.

A Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) report indicated that the mixture of these two substances causes excessive drowsiness, hypertension, tachycardia and raw wounds in the soft tissues of the epidermis, rotting the skin, which in turn become crusts of dead flesh similar to bedsores. The agency warned that tranq "appears to be following the same path as fentanyl," making it a serious threat.

The drug, first circulated in Philadelphia, has been spreading across the nation. VICE News reported that tranq has now spread to at least 39 states across the nation.

A 'zombie drug' 

Tranq is also popularly referred to as a "zombie drug." It gets this name because xylazine, being a sedative for animals, produces side effects in humans, including severe wounds that cause the skin to lose oxygenation and die, giving it a zombie-like appearance. If left untreated, these injuries can lead to amputation.

According to OCME:

Xylazine can be smoked, snorted or injected. It causes severe skin ulcerations that spread and worsen quickly. Repeated xylazine injection has also been associated with severe, necrotic skin lesions often requiring advanced wound care. These wounds may occur in areas of the body away from the injection site.

An easily accessible drug that resists Narcan

The DEA noted that xylazine was "detected in a growing number of overdose deaths." In addition, it is easily obtained and distributed by traffickers because it is not a legally controlled substance and 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 Growing Threat of Xylazine and Its Mixture With Illicit Drugs by Verónica Silveri on Scribd

The combination of this animal sedative with fentanyl, cocaine, heroin and other drugs can be lethal. The great concern arose among professionals when they realized that there is no antidote to an overdose: tranq, which is not an opioid, is resistant to narcan and naloxone, the drug used to treat opioid overdoses.