The Zombie Drug: Tranq

The opioid crisis continues to spread throughout the United States, killing tens of thousands of people each year and destroying the lives of even more. A drug called xylazine, also known as tranq, is making the deadliest synthetic opioid, fentanyl, even more lethal.

Xylazine (Tranq): The Basics

Xylazine is an animal tranquilizer, anesthetic, muscle relaxant, and analgesic. It is a non-opiate authorized in the United States for veterinary use only. Veterinarians use the drug to relieve pain or sedate animals before performing medical procedures or surgeries. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved xylazine for human use.

Xylazine Used as an Adulterant Chemical

When a drug is cut or laced into another drug, it is called an adulterant chemical. Drugs such as fentanyl, cocaine, and heroin are often adulterated to modify the effects of the drugs or enlarge the bulk size of the drug, increasing the drug dealer’s profit. Xylazine is being used as a chemical adulterant in illicit drugs, including fentanyl, heroin, and cocaine.

Usually combined with fentanyl or heroin, tranq strengthens the effects of the drug. Some people are not aware the drugs they are using contain xylazine, while others seek out drugs adulterated with xylazine for the increased high. The euphoric feeling produced by tranq is similar to the effects of opioids but lasts longer than fentanyl or heroin alone. Some people use tranq alone, without the addition of other drugs.

The Deadly Combination Spreads Across the United States

The growth and spread of tranq combined with fentanyl across the United States followed a similar path as the spread of fentanyl. It began in the Northeast, spreading South, and then West. According to a report from the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), drugs seized in 48 of 50 states contained fentanyl and xylazine mixtures. In 2022, the DEA reported that approximately 23% of seized fentanyl powder and 7% of seized fentanyl pills contained xylazine. 

The Effect of Tranq on the Body

Xylazine is a central nervous system depressant. The first effects of the drug include drowsiness, dry mouth, high blood pressure, and a rapid heart rate. Then the person’s blood pressure drops abnormally low, their heart rate and breathing slow, and their body temperature drops dangerously low. Coma and respiratory depression can follow. If the individual does not get medical help, death can occur.

When xylazine combines with synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, the potential for fatal overdoses increases. There is not an approved antidote for a xylazine overdose in humans. It is not an opioid and does not respond to Naxolan (Narcan). Administering Narcan will not reverse the effects of tranq, but the DEA does recommend administering Narcan anyway in case the tranq was mixed with opioids. 

Three More Dangers of the Drug

  1. Tranq has been called a flesh-eating zombie drug because of the effect it has on people. Tranq use can cause skin ulcers and abscesses anywhere on their body, not only at the injection site of the drug. As described by an article in the New York Times, “Xylazine causes wounds that erupt with a scaly dead tissue called eschar; untreated, they can lead to amputation.”
  2. Using tranq affects some people as if they are having a stroke. The individual seems fine one minute, and the next minute they are having severe stroke-like symptoms. These symptoms may appear days after the person used tranq.
  3. Tranq use can cause dangerous blackout stupors that can last for hours, making the person vulnerable to crimes such as rape or robbery.

Street Names for Xylazine

On the street, xylazine is known by many names in addition to tranq, such as zombie drug, zombie dope, tranq dope, and Cardi B. Legally sold xylazine brand names are Anased, Sedazine, Chanazine, and Rompun.

We Can Help

Addiction is a disease that can affect anyone. If you or a loved one struggles with drug or alcohol addiction, we are here for you. Addiction does not have to continue to ruin your life. Contact English Mountain Recovery, located in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. Our professionals will guide you through your recovery. Now is the right time to take the first step.


About the Author: Terry Hurley

Terry Hurley is a retired educational professional and freelance writer with more than fifty years of experience. A former reading specialist and learning center director, Terry loved her years working with children in the educational field. She has written extensively for print and online publications specializing in education and health issues. For the last six years, her writing focus has been on addiction and mental health issues.

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