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Xylazine is a drug that was historically used primarily as a sedative and analgesic in veterinary medicine. However, it’s currently making headlines due to its role in the ongoing opioid epidemic, where it’s increasingly found mixed with other drugs such as heroin and fentanyl.
Xylazine, or “tranq” as it’s commonly referred to on the street, has gained particular notoriety in recent months due to how harmful the drug can be for users tissues themselves, causing necrotizing skin ulcers that eat away at users’ flesh. This, combined with the powerful sedative effects of both the xylazine and those it’s being mixed with, is why many news outlets brand it as the new “zombie drug.”
What kind of drug is Xylazine?
Xylazine is a synthetic medication that belongs to the class of drugs known as alpha-2 adrenergic agonists. It is a potent sedative and analgesic (painkiller) commonly used in veterinary medicine to calm and restrain animals during medical procedures. The drug works by binding to alpha-2 receptors in the brain and spinal cord, which reduces the production of secondary messenger neurotransmitters and produces a state of sedation and muscle relaxation.
While uncommon, Xylazine is sometimes used as an adjunct to general anesthesia in human medicine to provide sedation and analgesia during surgery. However, it is not approved for use as a primary anesthetic in humans.
FDA Warning for Xylazine
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently issued a warning against the use of xylazine in humans. The agency has not approved xylazine for use in humans, and it is illegal to use this drug for non-veterinary purposes. Studies have also linked recreational use of xylazine numerous cases of overdose and death.
Xylazine is increasingly used in combination with other drugs, such as fentanyl, to increase the potency of the drug or to reduce the amount of the more expensive drug needed. This practice is extremely dangerous and can lead to respiratory depression, cardiac arrest, and death.
Risks Associated with Using Xylazine Recreationally
Xylazine is quickly gaining popularity as a drug of abuse, particularly among intravenous opioid users. Because it is relatively easy to obtain and has similar effects to opioids, dealers and users mix it with other drugs, including fentanyl, to create a cheaper, more potent combination. However, using xylazine recreationally is fraught with debilitating and potentially life-threatening hazards.
Some of the most common dangers associated with xylazine use include:
- Respiratory depression: Xylazine can cause a significant decrease in respiratory function, which can lead to difficulty breathing, respiratory distress, and even respiratory failure.
- Cardiac arrest: In some cases, xylazine can cause the heart to stop beating, leading to cardiac arrest and death.
- Seizures: Xylazine can lower the seizure threshold in some individuals, increasing the risk of seizures.
- Nausea and vomiting: Xylazine use can cause nausea and vomiting in some individuals.
- Skin irritation and tissue damage: Xylazine can cause skin irritation and tissue damage when injected or used improperly.
- Dependence and addiction: Like other opioids and sedative drugs, xylazine is highly addictive and difficult to quit once the body develops a dependence.
- Overdose leading to coma and/or death. Even minute amounts of xylazine, especially when combined with other narcotics, can lead to a life-threatening overdose.
“Tranq” & Other Names for Xylazine
Trade names for xylazine:
• AnaSed Injection
• Xylazine Hydrochloride Injection
Street names for xylazine:
• Tranq dope
• Zombie drug
• Horse tranquilizer
Importantly, because xylazine is not an opioid, its effects cannot be reversed by naloxone. Naloxone is a live-saving drug that can reverse opioid overdoses because the body’s opioid receptors preferentially bind with it, blocking the effects of any other opioids.
Xylazine and Skin
Xylazine is known to have harmful effects on the skin. In veterinary medicine, xylazine is used to induce immobilization in animals, and it is often administered through intramuscular injection. However, accidental injection of xylazine into the skin can cause skin irritation and tissue damage due to its vasoconstricting effects on blood vessels and the resulting decrease in blood flow to the tissue.
In humans, xylazine causes skin rashes, itching, and blisters, which can ulcerate and lead to infection if left untreated. In fact, simply handling xylazine without proper protective gear can cause skin irritation, which is why laboratory and veterinary professionals are required to use gloves and other protective equipment when handling xylazine to prevent skin exposure.
Is It Possible to Overdose on Xylazine? How much Xylazine is Lethal?
Yes, it is possible to overdose on xylazine. In fact, xylazine is an extremely potent drug, and even small amounts can cause serious health problems and overdose, leading to coma and/or death.
The specific lethal dose of xylazine in humans is not well established. In veterinary medicine, xylazine is typically used in doses ranging from 0.5 to 2.2 mg/kg, depending on the species and the desired effect. However, recreational users of xylazine may use much higher doses.
Get Help for Xylazine Use with Enterhealth
If you or someone you know struggles with substance use disorder involving xylazine, opioids, or other sedative drugs, seeking help from a qualified treatment provider is crucial. Enterhealth provides comprehensive and individualized treatment programs that simultaneously address addiction and any underlying mental health issues.
Through our continuum of care, which includes inpatient, outpatient, and even virtual addiction treatment programs, our team of substance abuse and mental health professionals helps patients identify the root causes of their substance use and develops a treatment plan tailored to their specific needs and goals.