The combination of the animal tranquilizer xylazine and the potent synthetic opioid fentanyl has been in high demand in illicit drug supplies on the streets. When mixed, fentanyl and xylazine amplify the effects of one another, increasing the chances of overdose and death.
The Rising Concern of Xylazine and Fentanyl
The combination of xylazine and fentanyl has been found in illicit drug samples, leading to higher overdose risks and death. Xylazine, primarily a veterinary tranquilizer, is not intended for human use. However, it’s regularly found as a cutting agent or adulterant in street drugs. On the other hand, fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid, is already notorious for its role in overdose deaths. When these two substances are combined, they pose an even greater health risk. Both can depress the central nervous system, potentially leading to fatal respiratory depression. Adding xylazine to fentanyl can also induce a dangerously slowed heart rate and reduced blood pressure.
Drug dealers may use xylazine to “stretch” their product, as it’s cheaper than many other substances but enhances and prolongs the effects of opioids. This increases the dealer’s profit margins but puts users at significant risk, especially if they’re unaware they’re consuming xylazine. This lack of awareness, combined with the potential underestimation of fentanyl’s potency, exacerbates the side effects, symptoms, and health dangers. This new street drug trend is not just a concern for the individuals using these drugs but has broader public health implications. As this lethal mix gains popularity, there has been a strain on emergency medical services, hospitals, and drug rehab centers. With the illicit drug market’s ever-evolving nature, law enforcement and public health officials face significant challenges in combatting this issue. The efforts to raise awareness about fentanyl and xylazine’s risks and develop strategies to address its community impact is an ongoing case.
What is Xylazine?
Xylazine, or “Tranq,” is a non-opioid sedative and analgesic primarily used in veterinary medicine as a tranquilizer. It is often administered to large animals, including horses, deer, and cattle, as a tranquilizer for procedures or treatments that require them to be calm or sedated. Although it has potent sedative and muscle-relaxing properties, xylazine is not approved for human use.
In recent years, there has been growing concern regarding its appearance in the illicit drug market, where it is used as a cutting agent or adulterant in street drugs. When humans ingest xylazine, it depresses the central nervous system (CNS) and respiratory system. This can lead to harmful health effects such as bradycardia (slow heart rate) and hypotension (low blood pressure). Its presence in illicit drug use and other potent substances, has heightened worries among public health and safety officials.
What is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid used medically for pain management, especially for patients with chronic pain or undergoing surgery. Fentanyl’s potency is approximately 100 times more potent than morphine and about 50 times greater than heroin as an analgesic. Because of its strength, it’s typically administered in micrograms rather than milligrams. However, beyond its legitimate medical applications, fentanyl has garnered significant attention and concern due to its role in the opioid epidemic.
Illicitly manufactured fentanyl and its analogs have been linked to a surge in overdose deaths in recent years, contributing to the opioid crisis. The drug binds to the body’s opioid receptors, depressing the central nervous system (CNS). Even in small amounts, fentanyl can cause respiratory failure. Given its potency, even a slight miscalculation or minor contamination in street drugs with fentanyl can be lethal. The rise of fentanyl in the illicit drug market, often mixed with other drugs without the user’s knowledge, has become a significant public health concern.
The Dangers of Mixing Fentanyl with Xylazine
Mixing xylazine and fentanyl poses severe health risks, considering the pharmacological properties of each substance and the amplifying effects when used together. Both fentanyl and xylazine are central nervous system (CNS) depressants, which have a calming effect while slowing brain activity and relaxing the muscles. Prescription CNS depressants are medicines that include sedatives, tranquilizers, and hypnotics. When mixed, fentanyl and xylazine enhance central nervous system depression, causing sedative effects such as drowsiness, dizziness, and unconsciousness. Fentanyl can cause respiratory depression—a primary cause of opioid overdose deaths. When combined with xylazine, the life-threatening risk of respiratory depression increases.
Using xylazine can cause slow heart rate, also known as bradycardia, and hypotension, which is low blood pressure. When fentanyl is put in the mix, its impact on the cardiovascular system causes an increased risk of cardiac complications. The illicit drug market lacks consistency in drug purity and composition, meaning a drug can contain xylazine and fentanyl with a stronger potency than stated. Naloxone, an opioid reversal medication, is effective against opioid overdoses caused by fentanyl. However, naloxone (Narcan) does not reverse the effects of xylazine overdose. If someone overdoses on both xylazine and fentanyl, it might be challenging to treat both components of the overdose effectively. Chronic use of xylazine or overdose can lead to pulmonary edema, renal failure, and other organ damage.
Addressing the Growing Threat of This Lethal Mixture
According to the Centers for Disease Control Prevention (CDC), drug overdose deaths involving xylazine increased from 0.03 per 100,000 standard population in 2018 to 1.06 in 2021. Fentanyl was the most frequently co-occurring substance mentioned in death records for xylazine between 2018 and 2021. Addressing the growing threat of xylazine and fentanyl requires a holistic, multifaceted approach combining public health initiatives, law enforcement measures, and medical interventions. The dangers of this street drug mix, including the risks associated with xylazine and the heightened effects when combined with fentanyl, urgently need public awareness.
Medical professionals and first responders need tailored training to recognize and treat the effects of these substances. Even as naloxone continues to be contributed nationwide, there’s a pressing need for xylazine intoxication and overdose treatments. Comprehensive addiction treatment services that address coexisting mental health challenges, also known as co-occurring disorders or dual diagnosis, are vital. Law enforcement agencies must intensify efforts to disrupt the distribution networks of this lethal combination, and international collaboration will be critical to tackling the production and trafficking at its source. Meanwhile, consistent research and data collection can guide interventions, helping contributors stay ahead of emerging drug trends. Fentanyl and xylazine addiction can be lethal, leading to overdose risks and death if not adequately treated. Medical treatment for drug addiction can be completed at a drug and alcohol rehab center offering detox and addiction treatment.
Drug Rehab Treatment for Fentanyl and Xylazine Addiction
The life-threatening nature of fentanyl and xylazine requires medical supervision and specialized treatment for addiction. When dealing with an addiction to fentanyl and xylazine, also known as a substance use disorder (SUD), drug rehab centers are the most proficient resources for detoxification and holistic recovery. Addiction treatment centers are equipped with licensed professionals specializing in addiction treatment and recovery.
Rock Recovery Center in Palm Beach, FL, offers drug and alcohol rehab treatment services to help struggling addicts get the help they need. Our services include holistic rehab programs and therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), adventure therapy, yoga and meditation, and nutritional therapy. Contact us today to start on your road to recovery!
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2023. What You Should Know About Xylazine.
- United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), 2022. Drug Fact Sheet: Fentanyl.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2018. Drug Facts: Prescription CNS Depressants.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2023. Naloxone.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: NVSS Vital Statistics Rapid Release, 2023. Drug Overdose Deaths Involving Xylazine: United States, 2018-2021.