An alleged drug dealer stands near a row of drug addicts in San Francisco, Calif., on Feb. 23, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
California Gov. Gavin Newsom is proposing legislation to increase criminal penalties for illicit uses and trafficking of xylazine, an animal tranquilizer often mixed with fentanyl and other drugs, known as the deadly street drug “tranq.”
The governor’s announcement comes in the wake of a surge in fatal overdose deaths from tranq seen across the United States.
“Tranq poses a unique and devastating challenge in our fight against the overdose epidemic. Although California is not yet seeing tranq at the same rates as other parts of the country, this legislation will help the state stay ahead and curb dealers and traffickers, while we work to provide treatment and resources for those struggling with addiction and substance abuse,” Mr. Newsom said in a press release
on Nov. 28.
Xylazine-related deaths have increased substantially in every region in the nation, more than tripling from 2020 to 2021, according to the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). A DEA joint intelligence report
released in October last year shows these deaths more than doubled from 631 to 1,281 in northeastern states while rising from four to 34 in the western U.S.
Xylazine is used by veterinarians but has no approved human use. The proposed legislation would designate xylazine a controlled substance, making illicit trafficking subject to increased criminal penalties while still allowing legitimate veterinary use in animals.
Tranq is known to cause severe skin lesions in humans, leaving users with open wounds that can lead to infection, necrosis, and even amputations.
Jacqui Berlinn, co-founder of Mothers Against Drug Addiction and Deaths (MADAD), told The Epoch Times her son Corey, who is addicted to fentanyl and lives on the streets of San Francisco’s infamous Tenderloin district, almost lost his thumb to tranq recently.
“It was mixed with fentanyl. It’s literally adding more poison to the drug supply,” Ms. Berlinn said in a text message. “I’m grateful the governor is doing something that [may] help protect my son and others from sores and infections that can cause the loss of limbs.”
Because Xylazine is a tranquilizer, the drug also left her son feeling paralyzed and “unable to move” in freezing weather, she said.
“Thanks to a Good Samaritan who called an ambulance, he was taken to the hospital and treated for hypothermia,” she said. “When it’s cold out, it’s very risky to get drugs with xylazine in it. If a person can’t get somewhere warm because they can’t move, they could literally freeze to death.”
Last year, Ms. Berlinn helped form another group called North America Recovers
, a nonpartisan coalition of more than 20 American and Canadian community leaders, parents of the homeless, and recovering addicts seeking federal, state, and local actions that “support addiction recovery—not addiction enablement.”
Authorities believe tranq is added to illicit street opioids to heighten and prolong effects, particularly for fentanyl, which is known for short but intense highs.
The DEA issued a warning
in March about a nationwide increase in trafficked fentanyl containing xylazine. The agency reported at the time that tranq had been found in nearly every state. Last year, 23 percent of fentanyl powder contained xylazine, while 7 percent of fentanyl pills contained the tranquilizer.
Xylazine is most frequently found in combinations with two or more other substances, including fentanyl, cocaine, heroin, and a variety of other drugs. Tranq is also used on its own, “though this is less frequently reported,” according to the report.
Research on the effects of xylazine on the human body is limited, but anecdotal reports indicate users experience effects similar to opioids. Xylazine can lead to depression of the central nervous system along with other adverse effects reported in scientific and medical journals, according to the DEA.
Jacqui Berlinn walks with her son Corey who is homeless and addicted to fentanyl, in San Francisco, Calif., on Feb. 22, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Instances of xylazine in illicit drug combinations and its detection in fatal overdoses could be more widespread than reported because “a number of jurisdictions across the country may not include xylazine in forensic laboratory or toxicology testing,” the DEA reported.
The agency has also warned that naloxone, more commonly known by the brand name NarCan, may not work to prevent such overdoses.
“Xylazine and fentanyl drug mixtures place users at a higher risk of suffering a fatal drug poisoning,” the DEA warned. “Because xylazine is not an opioid, naloxone (Narcan) does not reverse its effects. Still, experts always recommend administering naloxone if someone might be suffering a drug poisoning.”
The California Department of Public Health has notified
facilities and clinicians about the increased presence of xylazine in the illicit drug supply and what actions clinicians should take to keep patients safe.
The California State Board of Pharmacy and the California Veterinary Medical Board have also issued an alert and reminder
to licensees that xylazine is subject to laws related to dangerous drugs and that the Board of Pharmacy licensees must keep records of such drugs for at least three years.
The crackdown on tranq is part of the state’s “multi-pronged plan to address the opioid and overdose epidemic,” according to Mr. Newsom’s office.
Last year, an expansion of California National Guard-supported operations led to a 594 percent increase in seized fentanyl and $1 billion in funding to address the state’s drug epidemic and assist those struggling with addiction, reported
the governor’s office.