The U.S. has grappled with a second wave of the opioid epidemic since 2010. And unfortunately, it hasn’t gotten much better in the last decade-plus. More than 70,000 people died from a synthetic opioid overdose, primarily fentanyl, in 2021, according to CDC data.

That’s not just a number—it represents people’s brothers, sisters, parents and friends. And while people may want to see the light at the end of the tunnel, it appears the crisis will deepen before it gets better. That’s in part because of a drug called Xylazine. The drug is actually not an opioid. Rather, it’s a sedative used in veterinary medicine.

What is Xylazine?

Xylazine is a tranquilizer, explains Aymet Demara, a licensed associate substance abuse therapist (LASAC) and the associate clinical director at Scottsdale Recovery Center.

“The drug is used mainly for large animals in the veterinarian field for medical procedures,” Demara says. “[It is] not meant for the human population but can be seen in drugs that are used today, such as fentanyl. This drug can mimic the use of a tranquilizer as well.”

According to a New York Times report, Xylazine was discovered in Kensington, Pennsylvania, in 2006, but unintentional use surged there and spread throughout the Northeast region in 2018.

Xylazine, pronounced zai-luh-zeen, has several nicknames.

“Tranq and zombie drug are the most common names for this as it is a sub-name for a tranquilizer,” Demara explains, adding that she expects more names to develop as the drug’s use grows.

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