Opioids Cut With Xylazine: Effects & Risks

A troubling trend is emerging in the opioid crisis: the increasing presence of xylazine used as an adulterant in drugs like fentanyl and heroin. Often referred to as as tranq or tranq dope, xylazine is a potent veterinary drug, and is not legally used for human consumption. 2022 data showed that a significant portion of seized fentanyl – 23% of powder and 7% of pills – contained xylazine, raising concerns about increased overdose risks and potential complications for people living with an opioid addiction.1

In this article, you will learn what xylazine is, the risks of opioids mixed with xylazine, including overdose, and how to get help if you or a loved one is struggling with opioid addiction.

What Is Xylazine (Tranq)?

Xylazine is an FDA-approved veterinary tranquilizer that is not approved for human use.2 It is a non-opioid substance that has sedative, pain relieving (analgesic), and muscle relaxant properties.3 The drug was created by Bayer in 1962 and was initially investigated as a sleep aid in humans. However, the side effects were considered severe, and the trials were discontinued.3

Xylazine Uses

The FDA has approved Xylazine for use as a tranquilizer or pain reliever in animals.3 At this time, xylazine is not regulated under the Controlled Substances Act.3  Drug cartels and illicit drug manufacturers have taken advantage of this loophole, obtaining xylazine in liquid and powder forms and pressing it into counterfeit pills or mixing it with other drugs, like fentanyl, to increase the street value of the drug and intensify its effects.4

Effects of Xylazine

Due to the limited scope of human trial studies, the complete range of adverse effects stemming from xylazine remains largely unknown. Nevertheless, reports from individuals who have used xylazine, often unintentionally, have reported a number of side effects, including: 4

  • Dry mouth.
  • Excessive drowsiness.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Increased heart rate.

Additional adverse reactions can include:4

  • Low blood pressure.
  • Slowed heart rate.
  • Low body temperature.
  • Elevated blood sugar.
  • Respiratory depression.
  • Irregular heartbeat.
  • Coma.

Risks of Opioids Mixed with Xylazine

Opioids mixed with xylazine, such as fentanyl and heroin, are still an emerging threat in the U.S.1 As such, experts still have much to learn about the scope of the risks associated with this dangerous combination. However, evidence indicates that xylazine-adulterated opioids use comes with a number of dangers, including: 5

  • Significant sedative effects that can persist beyond the effects of the drugs it is mixed with.
  • Muscle and nerve damage due to the prolonged immobility associated with xylazine’s sedative properties.
  • Rotting tissue and tissue death increases the risk of limb loss due to soft tissue damage from infections.

Can You Overdose on Xylazine?

Yes, you can overdose on xylazine, particularly when combined with opioids such as heroin and fentanyl.2 The additive effects, such as decreased respiratory rate and profound sedation, can lead to a much higher risk of overdose and death.2,5

Data regarding the full extent of xylazine-related overdose deaths in the U.S. is incomplete due to variations in postmortem toxicology testing practices across jurisdictions.4 However, data from jurisdictions that do include xylazine testing have revealed a notable increase in associated overdose fatalities. In 2021, the reported number of xylazine-related overdose deaths rose to 3,089, compared to 808 in 2020.4

Xylazine overdose symptoms may appear to be like opioid overdose symptoms. The combination of xylazine and opioid overdose symptoms include:6

  • Muscles are less responsive or do not respond to stimuli.
  • Weakness.
  • Stumbling, slurred speech, disorientation.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Dizziness.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Lack of coordination.
  • Respiratory depression.
  • Hypertension.
  • Bradycardia.
  • Tachycardia.
  • Hyperglycemia.
  • “Pinned” pupils.
  • Coma.

Is Xylazine Addictive?

The full extent of xylazine’s addiction potential is not entirely understood, particularly since it is most often used in combination with other addictive substances, such as heroin.5,7

Opioid Addiction Treatment in Nevada

If you or someone you love is struggling with opioid addiction, there is help. At our inpatient addiction treatment facility in Las Vegas, we offers several levels of addiction treatment to help you or your loved one on your journey to recovery.

Call our admissions navigators at any time to learn more about your treatment options. Our navigators can also answer any questions you may have regarding paying for rehab, insurance coverage, and the treatment admissions process.

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