Op-Ed by Emily Thompson
American drug users are keeling over and dying. Xylazine, commonly known as “tranq”, was originally intended as an animal tranquilizer for large livestock like horses. Unfortunately, it has now become a concerning component in the illicit drug market as dealers cut corners by mixing this dangerous substance in with their product. In recent years, it has been utilized as a cutting agent for drugs such as fentanyl and heroin. This unfortunate development has created an additional challenge in the battle against the opioid crisis, highlighting a significant gap in U.S. drug policy. Tragically, the consequences have proven to be deadly for some individuals who end up in a zombie state and many of them die.
The U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) recognized the combination of fentanyl and xylazine as an “emerging threat” in April. This dangerous mixture exacerbates the already devastating opioid crisis, escalating the risk of overdose. Moreover, the repeated use of xylazine has been linked to the development of unusually large and persistent skin lesions and abscesses. In severe cases, these complications have even necessitated limb amputation. These distressing effects underscore the urgent need to address this issue and implement effective strategies to combat the opioid crisis.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reports that:
- Between 2020 and 2021, forensic laboratory identifications of
xylazine rose in all four U.S. census regions, most notably in the South
(193%) and the West (112%).
- Xylazine-positive overdose deaths increased by 1,127% in the South,
750% in the West, more than 500% in the Midwest, and more than 100% in
With over 107,000 people dead from this terrible epidemic, and while national overdose death numbers have flattened or decreased for seven straight months, xylazine is complicating efforts to reverse opioid overdoses with Naloxone and threatens progress being made to save lives and address the opioid crisis.
The first step to controlling substance abuse is education. From a young age, children must be taught to say “no” and that drugs can and do kill. At the same time, law enforcement must continue to work hard to stop drug dealers from dealing dangerous substances that are killing our beloved family members. It is important to delve into why drug dealers are enhancing their product with dangerous elements and there are several reasons why they do so. These practices are often driven by economic motives, lack of quality control, and the desire to enhance profitability, among other reasons.
When they can, dealers mix dangerous substances or adulterants into drugs to increase the quantity and profitability of their product. By adding less expensive substances, such as baking soda, talcum powder, or other chemicals, they can stretch the supply and increase their profits. However, these adulterants can pose serious health risks to users.
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Dealers also mix substances to adjust the potency or strength of the drug. By adding more potent substances or synthetic analogs, they enhance the drug’s effects, making it more appealing to consumers. The problem is, however, that this also increases the risk of overdose or adverse reactions.
In some known cases, drug dealers substitute or “cut” the original drug with a cheaper or more readily available substance. For example, heroin could be cut with fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid, as a cheaper alternative. This substitution significantly increases the risk of overdose and other health complications.
Dealers often add substances to their drugs to create unique and appealing products. They make an effort to market the adulterated drugs as a specific brand or offer variations that appear to be more desirable to certain segments of the market, leading to increased sales and customer loyalty, despite the associated risks.
Obviously, the illegal drug market operates outside regulatory frameworks, and there is no quality control or standardized production processes. As a result, there is a lack of consistency in drug purity and potency. Dealers sometimes add dangerous substances unintentionally due to poor manufacturing practices or contamination during the production or distribution process.
Because of these reasons, users are exposed to many dangers including increased health risks, addiction, and even death. Drug users are often unaware of the exact composition and purity of the substances they are consuming, which makes it particularly dangerous. Unfortunately, many drug users are young and had they somehow been able to kick the habit, they could have turned their lives around.
At present, there is a bill under consideration in Congress that aims to include xylazine as a controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act. If this bill is passed, it would lead to the control of xylazine, thereby making its possession illegal under specific circumstances. Additionally, such tight classification would facilitate improved monitoring of its supply by the government. By taking this step, lawmakers aim to enhance regulation and control over xylazine, recognizing the need to address its misuse and potential risks effectively. However, veterinarians are displeased with this solution since they rely on xylazine to treat animals. They are worried that increased regulations would make it more difficult to obtain for legitimate purposes.
Clearly, a blanket ban does not work. Lawmakers and officials need to dig deeper and come up with creative solutions that will save drug users’ lives, punish the dealers, and educate the next generation about the dangers of substance abuse. Americans are dying by the thousands and our leaders must step up efforts to contain America’s drug problem before it kills thousands more.
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