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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

Cocaine was also a cause in more than 80 cases, including McClave’s, the Times found. The DEA in 2018 warned of cocaine laced with fentanyl in Florida.

In McClave’s case, Treasure Island police found what appeared to be marijuana and a small plastic bag with white residue in his room, according to a police report. His family still questions how he took the powerful drugs and is grappling with his death.

He was an avid fisherman, catching snook and grouper in the Gulf of Mexico, said his sister, Ashley McClave. He dreamed of being a charter boat captain.

“I feel like I’ve lost everything,” his sister said. “My son won’t be able to learn how to fish from his uncle.”

Mysterious Wounds

Another vexing challenge for health officials is the link between chronic xylazine use and open wounds.

The wounds are showing up across Tampa Bay, needle exchange leaders said. The telltale sign is blackened, crusty tissue, Bonham-Lovett said. Though the injuries may start small — the size of a dime — they can grow and “take over someone’s whole limb,” she said.

Even those who snort fentanyl, instead of injecting it, can develop them. The phenomenon is unexplained, Nelson said, and is not seen in animals.


IDEA Exchange Pinellas has recorded at least 10 cases since opening last February, Bonham-Lovett said, and has a successful treatment plan. Staffers wash the wounds with soap and water, then dress them.

One person required hospitalization partly due to xylazine’s effects, Bonham-Lovett said. A 31-year-old St. Petersburg woman, who asked not to be named due to concerns over her safety and the stigma of drug use, said she was admitted to St. Anthony’s Hospital in 2023. The woman, who said she uses fentanyl daily, had a years-long staph infection resistant to some antibiotics, and a wound recently spread across half her thigh.

The woman hadn’t heard of xylazine until IDEA Exchange Pinellas told her about the drug. She’s thankful she found out in time to get care.

“I probably would have lost my leg,” she said.


This article was produced in partnership with the Tampa Bay Times.

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


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