Tranq: An Emerging Threat in Pennsylvania

woman in therapy

An emerging threat in Pennsylvania is coming from xylazine, known on the street as ‘tranq’ or ‘zombie drug’. This powerful drug is used in veterinary medicine as a sedative and pain reliever. It is not intended for human use. To produce a stronger effect, xylazine is often mixed with other drugs like heroin, fentanyl or benzodiazepines. In fact, more than 90 percent of street samples tested in Philadelphia contain tranq. 

In April 2023, Philadelphia’s Opioid Response Unit released an action plan to share its latest efforts in addressing the opioid crisis. Included in this action plan are: ways to prevent overdoses, reduce harms associated with substance misuse, expand access to behavioral health treatment and recovery services and support impacted communities. 

The improvements we've seen so far include a greater distribution of naloxone, improved access to treatment, mobile wound care, same-day pay for work and support services for grieving families. Of course, there is much more work to be done. Let’s learn more about tranq and how it’s affecting the state of Pennsylvania. 

What is Xylazine or ‘Tranq’? 

Xylazine or ‘tranq’ is a veterinary tranquilizer commonly used on horses to produce a calming effect, relaxing the muscles and reducing pain. With illicit tranq, its liquid solution gets dried and added to pills as a powder or mixed with other powders. 

Like other tranquilizers, tranq can reduce anxiety, relax tense muscles and induce sedation. It produces effects almost immediately and can last up to 8 hours depending on how much was used and if it was combined with any other substances. For instance, when mixed with fentanyl, tranq can delay withdrawal symptoms and cravings for twice as long as using fentanyl alone. 

The signs and symptoms of tranq use include: 

  • ‘Nodding out’ 
  • Sleepiness
  • Memory loss
  • Slow breathing
  • Decreased heart rate 
  • Low blood pressure
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Loss of physical sensation

What Makes Tranq So Dangerous? 

Tranq is an extremely dangerous drug that carries significant health risks. For one, tranq use can result in skin and soft tissue lesions. These wounds typically occur on the legs or arms, away from the injection sites. They can also occur whether the drug is smoked, snorted or injected. The wounds can spread and worsen quickly, sometimes leading to amputations. 

Second, tranq produces intense effects, as it’s an extremely potent drug, especially when mixed with other substances. Tranq can lead to a loss of consciousness, putting people at risk for injuries, accidents or assault. People who take fentanyl and tranq may black out for hours and then awaken.

Finally, it’s possible to overdose on tranq, but there’s nothing to reverse the effects. Since tranq is a tranquilizer and not an opioid, naloxone is ineffective. However, it's still best to administer this medication when suspecting an opioid-involved overdose. Since xylazine and fentanyl are often combined, it’s usually worth administering naloxone. woman sitting on couch

What is Pennsylvania Doing to Combat the Tranq Problem? 

There is no question that tranq is a significant concern on the East Coast. It has made it into 91 percent of the local dope supply, making it the most common adulterant. Due to the widespread prevalence of xylazine, local health agencies have had no choice but to address the problem. Here is how they plan to respond: 

Harm reduction and overdose prevention 

The city of Philadelphia plans to move beyond a one-size-fits-all approach by expanding community engagement efforts. They plan to partner with businesses, schools, places of worship and community-based organizations to spread information about the dangers of tranq and where to go for help.

Accessible treatment and housing 

Many people who abuse substances also have mental illness. Another effort that the state is working on is streamlining services and breaking down barriers for individuals who need help. The goal is to make housing and quality drug rehab in PA more accessible so that people can recover while living in a safe environment. 

Greater access to healthcare 

Medications for opioid use disorder are the gold standard for treatment in Pennsylvania. The city of Philadelphia plans to expand access to mobile methadone clinics, offering life-saving treatment on the street, as well as in prisons. 

Distribute vital resources 

Naloxone is a life-saving medication that can reverse an opioid overdose in minutes. Anyone can carry naloxone, and you don’t need a prescription. In fact, Philadelphia installed the first Naloxone Near Me Tower, a 24/7 vending machine that dispenses free naloxone to residents in West Philadelphia. 

Mobile wound care 

Xylazine causes severe, fast-spreading wounds that can result in amputation, which only leads to more helplessness and distress. Mobile wound care is being piloted in PA in response to the xylazine crisis. By treating these wounds early on, individuals can prevent serious infections and amputation, plus have an easier time accessing addiction treatment services and housing. 

Support for grieving families 

Statewide, in 2022, there were over 4,700 reported overdoses in PA. This is a lot of people - and a lot of grieving families. Pennsylvania is working hard to support communities and families who have lost loved ones to drug overdose. The hope is that with the appropriate support, families will feel less isolated, and in turn, be less likely to self-medicate themselves. 

Intensive Outpatient Program in Easton PA  

Recovery Cove is located in Easton PA, approximately an hour and a half from Philadelphia and Manhattan. This prime location makes it easy for families to participate in family therapy, yet far enough for a fresh start. There are also many opportunities for safe, sober fun such as the Crayola Experience, National Canal Museum and the Nurture Nature Center

Our treatment facility provides substance use treatment services in a supportive and compassionate setting. Between partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient and standard outpatient, you can find the level of care that is appropriate for your needs. Contact us today at 484-549-COVE to learn more about our services and how we can help you or a loved one recover from tranq addiction.