As if Philadelphia didn't have a big enough problem on its hands with its "zombie streets" in the Northeast lined with drug users...
...a new drug is making its way out into the city. Philly Voice published a new piece this week detailing the veterinary sedative xylazine, also known as "tranq", which is now being "pervasive" in the drug scene and is mixed with fentanyl.
It is responsible for "more complex overdoses and painful skin wounds," the report says. The drug is a "anesthetic and pain reliever" that "is used by vets to treat horses and cattle". The appeal of mixing it with Fentanyl is that it can extend the perception of a person's high.
It has been found in 90% of dope samples that the city tested last year, the report says. Last year, it was found in 44% of Fentanyl overdose deaths in the city and was found in 34% of all overdose deaths. It marks a 39% increase from the year prior.
Jennifer Shinefeld, a field epidemiologist for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, commented: "Xylazine was initially added into the drug supply because a heroin high lasts for 6-8 hours, but a fentanyl high lasts from 1-2 hours."
"The tranquilizer was being added to mimic a traditional heroin high, but also to allegedly prolong the effects."
Fentanyl is already responsible for the lion's share of the city's overdoses, the report notes:
Among Philadelphia's 1,276 fatal overdoses in 2021 — the city's deadliest year on record — fentanyl was linked to 71% of fatalities. The drug was present in 94% of fatal overdoses in which opioids were found, showing the extent to which fentanyl has supplanted heroin as the predominant opioid.
And now using xylazine as an additive is "further complicating drug interactions in people who use these substances, requiring urgent changes to Philadelphia's public health response".
In other words, Philadelphia's drug crisis has (once again) taken a turn for the worse - and the city is being labeled "ground zero" for the new drug, which made its way from Puerto Rico:
Xylazine first emerged as a recreational drug in Puerto Rico during the early 2000s, years before fentanyl became a staple of the U.S. drug supply.
"It was seen among folks who were residing in towns where there was higher veterinary use of it," said Jewell Johnson, a substance use epidemiologist in Philadelphia's health department.
As fentanyl spread first in the Northeast, then westward over the last decade, xylazine came to be seen by drug suppliers as an appealing substance to offset the shorter run of a fentanyl high. The drug doesn't make opioids last any longer, but it prolongs the mental state of being on a drug.
Philadelphia, long an epicenter of the nation's opioid epidemic, became an ideal place for tranq dope to flourish.
"Outside of Puerto Rico, for lack of a better word, Philadelphia is ground zero for xylazine," Shinefeld said.
Shinefeld concluded: "Xylazine is the primary adulterate (in the drug supply), I say that because we no longer consider fentanyl a primary adulterate, but (rather) the primary component. Fentanyl started to take over the drug supply in 2010. There's not very much heroin left. There are certain areas where you can still get it, but all of the bags that we've ever tested that had actual heroin also had fentanyl present in them."
You can read Philly Voice's full report on the drug here.