A naloxone kit and flyers about the dangers of xylazine,...

A naloxone kit and flyers about the dangers of xylazine, an animal tranquilizer increasingly mixed with fentanyl and considered dangerous to humans. Credit: Derek Montgomery for The Washington Post

The DEA has warned that drug dealers are combining an animal sedative that can rot human tissue and lead to amputations or even death with the often-fatal synthetic opioid fentanyl.

On Sunday, Sen. Chuck Schumer said the drug, xylazine, also known as “tranq,” was detected in 16 autopsies in Suffolk in 2022 and four in Nassau. The numbers are expected to be higher in 2023, a spokesman for the senator said. 

At a Manhattan news conference, Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he has asked the Drug Enforcement Administration to send a diversion control team to New York to work with local law enforcement to combat xylazine trafficking. Schumer said the team would work to prevent, detect and investigate the diversion of controlled pharmaceuticals from legitimate sources. 

“Xylazine is dangerous, it is deadly and it is here,” Schumer said. 

In a public safety alert last week, DEA administrator Anne Milgram described xylazine as "making the deadliest drug threat our country has ever faced, fentanyl, even deadlier.”

She said the federal agency "has seized xylazine and fentanyl mixtures in 48 of 50 states. The DEA Laboratory System is reporting that in 2022 approximately 23% of fentanyl powder and 7% of fentanyl pills seized by the DEA contained xylazine.” 

Xylazine is already prevalent in New York City and Philadelphia, and conversations with users of illegal drugs on Long Island suggest it is making inroads in Nassau and Suffolk, according to Jeff Reynolds, executive director of the Family & Children’s Association, a Garden City-based nonprofit that provides treatment and support to individuals and families struggling with addiction. 

Xylazine was approved as a sedative for horses and cows in the 1970s, Reynolds said, but it can be dangerous to humans. The DEA said people who inject drug mixtures with xylazine can develop severe wounds, including necrosis — the rotting of human tissue “that may lead to amputation.” 

Since xylazine is a sedative, Narcan, the lifesaving nasal spray that reverses opioid overdoses, is ineffective. But first responders and health officials should administer Narcan when someone appears to be suffering from an overdose, Reynolds said, because xylazine is frequently used to cut heroin, fentanyl and other drugs. 

"As Nassau County continues to combat the heroin, fentanyl and opioid epidemic, I want to applaud Sen. Schumer for taking action to stop this new drug in its tracks before it is able to harm our residents," Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman said. 

"As we continue to battle the opioid epidemic on all fronts, I want to thank Sen. Schumer for fighting to ensure we have the tools to keep this new dangerous drug off our streets," said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. 

Law enforcement and public health officials have said that fentanyl is now responsible for the majority of fatal overdoses on Long Island as well as nationwide. Officials have warned that drug suppliers are cutting heroin with fentanyl, as well as nonopioid drugs such as cocaine. Fatal levels of fentanyl have also been found in counterfeit prescription medications, including fake Xanax and Adderall.

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