'Tranq' sedative, cut into drugs, is now in Snohomish County

Street drugs cut with the powerful animal sedation drug nicknamed "tranq" haven't been formally detected in Snohomish County, the county's health officer said.
"But it's likely here anecdotally," health officer Dr. James Lewis said last week, from what he's hearing from medical contacts. The county’s drug task force chief knows it is here in some fashion, “but I can’t say it is widely used in our community,” Lt. David Hayes of the sheriff’s office said.
"Tranq" is a non-opiate sedative used by veterinarians. It's now getting added into drugs abused by people, most prominently fentanyl.
Its formal name is xylazine.
Because “tranq” is not an opioid, xylazine is resistant to the usual overdose reversal medications such as naloxone. Fentanyl overdoses are tough to reverse already. Xylazine-fentanyl combinations are even tougher. Methadone doesn’t reverse the withdrawals for xylazine, either.
Fentanyl has largely displaced heroin on the street market in the past five years, Hayes said. People addicted to opioids saw their menu limited in the shift.
Why add xylazine? It’s attractive to mix into narcotics because it prolongs an opioid high, according to multiple sources. “People usually don’t know xylazine is in their drugs,” a health advisory says.
And it’s cheap: A quick Internet search found bottles from veterinary suppliers for under $40.
Drug enforcers busted a Marysville pill press operation and found xylazine being added into fake oxycodone M-30 pills full of fentanyl.
Congress is discussing making the veterinary drug a controlled substance. Manufacturers would have to report who’s buying their xylazine. The same substances law is used to control gamma hydroxybutyric acid, which is shortened to GHB, which has a reputation of being a “date rape drug” alongside roofies.
However, the drug cartels are wily: As soon as the fed makes xylazine a controlled substance, “they have five more veterinary drugs lined up” to replace it, Hayes said.
In March, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said in a statement this spring that it “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.”
What to do when there is a ‘tranq’ overdose
Tranq is self-descriptive, basically because it’s mainly used an animal tranquilizer. It induces sleepiness and slows down heart rates and breathing.
Lewis’ office issued an advisory at the end of June to service providers alerting that King County detected tranq cut into drugs “a handful of times.”
People overdosing should still be administered naloxone, the health advisory states.
If someone isn’t breathing, getting them breathing again is paramount.”If the person starts fully breathing again but is still asleep, they do not need more Narcan” or naloxone, the advisory says.
Opioid overdoses still
increasing countywide
Opioid overdoses continue to increase in the county. Fentanyl is blamed.
Last year, the county had 284 fatal overdoses; 77% of overdose patients had received naloxone before showing up to a hospital in 2022, up from 64% in 2020.
People are commonly balancing fentanyl, a downer, with meth, an upper, a county policy adviser, Jason Biermann, recently outlined at a county health meeting.
A whole subcategory of opioid overdose deaths is of people taking mixed drugs.
Think of the old speedball combo of cocaine and heroin, but much stronger.
It’s because now, fentanyl is a synthesized opioid, and today’s meth is synthesized, too.
“These are not the same drugs as 20 years ago,” Hayes said.