DENVER — Known by the street name "tranq" or "tranq dope" and even "zombie drug", Xylazine was created to sedate animals like horses, cattle and sheep.
It’s a sedative approved by the FDA specifically for veterinary purposes. However, the Drug Enforcement Administration says fentanyl mixed with xylazine is being trafficked across the U.S., including in Colorado.
“They’re using utilizing xylazine as a cutting agent or adulterant, to, you know, bolster their product and sell more,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge for the DEA Rocky Mountain Field Division David Olesky.
While it's more prevalent in the Northeast, DEA agents say they're concerned about it eventually becoming more prevalent in Colorado.
“Makes it more fentanyl mixed with xylazine. It’s likely that the user is going to have a fatal overdose,” said Olesky.
Olesky says the reason why?
“Narcan is not effective against a fentanyl xylazine combination to reverse the specific effects attributable to xylazine,’ said Olesky.
That's because xylazine is not an opioid, but the DEA recommends using Narcan even if you suspect an overdose involving xylazine.
“The alternative of not doing something, is that the person might die. You might still have the chance of reviving the effects of fentanyl,” said Olesky.
People who inject drug mixtures containing xylazine also can develop severe wounds, including necrosis which is the rotting of human tissue and can lead to amputation.
“Drug trafficking organizations are only seeking one thing and its profit and so for us at the DEA, we just want to make sure that the public's aware,” said Olesky.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has recorded since 2021 two drug overdose deaths involving xylazine or nitazene in the Denver metro, another emerging substance. Denver Police found xylazine in 18 cases in 2022 through a fentanyl-monitoring project that tests drugs. However, the DEA says fentanyl and meth are still the main drugs investigators are finding on the streets of Colorado.
Denver7 asked the DEA how people are getting access to the sedative.
"Here with the farm industry in the state, it's something that's readily available,” said Olesky.
Congresswoman Yadira Caraveo recently introduced her first bill which will help gather information needed to stop the spread of drugs growing in popularity like xylazine. Caraveo released this statement: "As a doctor, I’ve seen firsthand how the drug crisis has hurt Colorado families. That's why the first bill I introduced in congress will help stop the next wave of the fentanyl crisis."
The DEA says it’s in the process of working with several different agencies to classify xylazine as a controlled substance.