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'Tranq dope' leaving users in a zombie-like state, DEA warns. Here are the drug's dangers

Arizona is seeing an increase in Xylazine—an animal tranquilizer – being laced in drugs.

PHOENIX — The so-called zombie drug ‘tranq’ that causes rotting skin, breathing problems, and has led to amputations is seeing an uptick in Arizona.

Xylazine, commonly known as ‘tranq dope,' is an animal tranquilizer that traffickers have laced with fentanyl, heroin, and other drugs to cut costs and increase highs, said Cheri Oz, the special agent who oversees DEA operations in Arizona.

“It’s taking the deadliest thing we can find and putting it in a cocktail to make it gross and more deadly,’ Oz said. “It is creating these zombie-like users. And it’s a terrible thing to see.”

Fentanyl mixed with xylazine has been found in 48 states, including Arizona, but cases are rare, Maricopa County's Officer of the Medical Examiner said.

"In 2022, we had nine (9) xylazine-related deaths out of approximately 2,200 drug-related deaths in Maricopa County (0.4% of cases)," the office said. "So far in 2023, we have not had any deaths where xylazine was detected. The vast majority of drug-related deaths continue to be due to fentanyl and/or methamphetamine."

Last year, DEA labs found xylazine in 23% of all fentanyl powder seized in the U.S. and in 7% of fentanyl pills.

Because xylazine is not an opioid, its effects can’t be reversed by Narcan—the medicine that rapidly reverses an opioid overdose.

RELATED: 'We're in a crisis': Valley health experts react to FDA approval of over-the-counter Narcan

“There’s a good chance if you are using a pill that you bought on the street and did not buy from a regular pharmacy that this might have xylazine in the pill,” Oz said. “It is nasty, nasty stuff.”

Xylazine has not been approved for human use, so its effects on humans are poorly understood.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are working to crack down on the ‘zombie drug.” On Tuesday, they introduced a bill in the House and Senate classifying xylazine as a controlled substance in hopes of helping law enforcement track its illegal use and those behind it.

“What I want to tell people all the time is, don’t make someone you love, plan your funeral. Because that’s what you’re doing when you take one pill,” Oz said.

The special agent said xylazine is slowly increasing in Arizona, but it's unclear how widespread it is, as some hospitals or medical examiners don’t often test for it.

12News reached out to Banner Health, Dignity Health, Mayo Clinic, and Valleywise Health hospitals regarding testing for xylazine, but did not get a response by the time of publishing.

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