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Horse sedative use among humans spreads in deadly mixture of 'tranq' and fentanyl

Sam Ogozalek, Tampa Bay Times, KFF Health News on

Published in News & Features

The White House in April designated the combination of fentanyl and xylazine, often called “tranq dope,” as an emerging drug threat. A study of 20 states and Washington, D.C., found that overdose deaths attributed to both illicit fentanyl and xylazine exploded from January 2019 to June 2022, jumping from 12 a month to 188.

“We really need to continue to be proactive,” said Amanda Bonham-Lovett, program director of a syringe exchange in St. Petersburg, “and not wait until this is a bigger issue.”

‘A Good Business Model’

There are few definitive answers about why xylazine use has spread — and its impact on people who consume it.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in September said the tranquilizer is entering the country in several ways, including from China and in fentanyl brought across the southwestern border. The Florida attorney general’s office is prosecuting an Orange County drug trafficking case that involves xylazine from a New Jersey supplier.

Bonham-Lovett, who runs IDEA Exchange Pinellas, the county’s anonymous needle exchange, said some local residents who use drugs are not seeking out xylazine — and don’t know they’re consuming it.


One theory is that dealers are mixing xylazine into fentanyl because it’s cheap and also affects the brain, Nelson said.

“It’s conceivable that if you add a psychoactive agent to the fentanyl, you can put less fentanyl in and still get the same kick,” he said. “It’s a good business model.”

In Florida, men accounted for three-quarters of fatal overdoses involving xylazine, according to the Times analysis. Almost 80% of those who died were white. The median age was 42.

Counties on Florida’s eastern coast saw the highest death tolls. Duval County topped the list with 46 overdoses. Tampa Bay recorded 19 fatalities.


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©2024 KFF Health News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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