While it is not a new drug, xylazine has become more widespread in recent years. Although xylazine has become more infamous as time progresses due to how common it’s become, it’s still not common knowledge what xylazine is, how it works, and if it’s as dangerous as other drugs.
What Is Xylazine or “Tranq”?
Xylazine is a powerful, non-opioid veterinary sedative often referred to as a “horse tranquilizer.” The effects of the drug in animals is well documented, and has been since its creation and FDA approval in the 1960s. Since its approval, xylazine has been used in other mammals from cattle to dogs, cats, and rats, but it is still a common tool for large animal vets to tranquilize animals prior to essential procedures.
It is worth noting that xylazine never made it out of the clinical trial stage for humans, and is thus not FDA approved for human use. Horses are much larger and stronger than humans, and can take greater doses of most medications with a less severe impact. Animal dosage is regulated by a trained veterinarian and the drug should never be administered without supervision. However, because of its status as an effective sedative, it has gained popularity among drug distributors looking to stretch their supply of certain counterfeit prescription opioids.
What Does Xylazine Do To Humans?
Like other tranquilizer or sedative-type drugs, xylazine can make people feel euphoric and relaxed. Like many modern street drugs, xylazine is a synthetic drug, first produced in a lab to achieve specific results for the treatment of a set of symptoms or ailments.
While these drugs are initially created to fulfill a legitimate purpose, they have been co-opted to suit the desires of the dealer and distributor, rather than the consumer. Like all synthetic drugs, xylazine is a risky purchase. In many instances, xylazine is mixed with opioids like fentanyl, another incredibly dangerous synthetic sedative known for its overdose risk. Even when taken alone, there’s a reason xylazine was not approved for human use.
Xylazine overdose can lead to:
- Extremely slowed breathing
- Slowed heart rate
- Lowered blood pressure
- Lowered body temperature
When xylazine is combined with known deadly drugs like fentanyl, risk for extreme side effects and overdose is far higher. So, what about the most well-known drug side effect? Does xylazine exposure put you at risk for substance use disorder?
Can You Get Addicted to Xylazine?
Like many drugs that cause sedation and/or a psychological high, people using xylazine can develop dependency and substance use disorder. People may continue using xylazine—whether in combination with other drugs, or not—to achieve sedation and euphoria, but the body will eventually develop a tolerance to the drug. This results in the need for increasing quantities of the drug to have the same impact.
This problem is compounded when one considers how xylazine is often mixed with other drugs, such as fentanyl and heroin, that have similar risks. It’s possible to develop a dependency on xylazine without realizing you were regularly consuming it while mixed with other drugs. Unfortunately, the variable nature of synthetic drugs means that you can never be sure you’re getting the same product time after time.
Will Narcan Work on Xylazine?
Narcan is an antidote that can save people experiencing an opioid overdose. It can be used to reverse overdose of drugs like fentanyl, heroin, hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, and more. What about xylazine, though? Is xylazine an opioid? If so, does Narcan work to reverse xylazine overdoses?
The truth is that while xylazine has effects similar to many opioids, xylazine is not actually an opioid itself. It’s a tranquilizer similar to clonidine that offers a euphoric sensation, but it’s important to remember that opioids are designed specifically to act on opioid receptors, while xylazine does not. As a result, Narcan is designed to counteract opioids, not other classes of drugs.
Therefore, the unfortunate reality is that Narcan does not work on xylazine. When taken, it can save someone from a fentanyl overdose, but not from a xylazine overdose if the two drugs were mixed. Worse, it may actually cause an adverse reaction. Simply put, it’s useless for fighting xylazine, and thus cannot be used to prevent xylazine from causing damage and claiming lives.
- Xylazine was found in 91% of opioid samples last year in Philadelphia and Puerto Rico, the most recent reporting period.
- Since initial reporting in 2021, xylazine has increasingly been detected in opioid samples in Massachusetts statewide as an active cut in fentanyl/heroin. About 1 in 4 heroin/fentanyl samples also contain xylazine.
- In 2022, discussion of xylazine on Reddit increased sharply from about 20 mentions in January to nearly 150 mentions in May.
- In one study of 10 cities and states, xylazine was detected in fewer than 1% of overdose deaths in 2015, but in 6.7% in 2020
Getting Help with a Xylazine Dependency
Xylazine use is becoming increasingly common, whether on its own or cut with other prescription and illicit drugs. However, while it may act as a unique form of sedative when used for its original intent—as an animal tranquilizer—it is not unique in its ability to cause serious damage to your physical and mental health, finances, relationship, and more. As a result, if you are experiencing substance use disorder issues that involve xylazine, the situation is not hopeless. Please reach out to a local treatment provider and, if you are localtor want to come to the area for treatment, our Scottsdale Addiction Recovery Program is structured to support you in your journey. Call us anytime to learn more.
Having been on both sides of active addition, both the person using, and the person affected by a loved one using drugs and alcohol, Lucas has been involved in recovery since 2009. He has been working in the treatment industry since 2013. Using his personal experience and wealth of knowledge learned from professional development and immersion in the recovery field, he has spoken with thousands of families and helped hundreds of people attain long-term sobriety. In 2020, the opportunity presented to join in and start Illuminate Recovery. Understanding the importance of personalized treatment plans and the complex nature between substance abuse and co-occurring disorders, has helped Illuminate Recovery build a strong curriculum and a phenomenal staff. Illuminate Recovery now has a medical doctor who is board certified in addiction medicine and a psychiatric medical doctor who works side by side with independently licensed therapists to provide compassionate and effective treatment.