NYC heroin users testing for skin-eating drug ‘tranq’

NEW YORK (WPIX) — Outside a building on East 126th Street in East Harlem, one of two safe injection sites in New York City, Ryan R. confirmed he has found Xylazine, known as ‘tranq,’ in his illicit drugs.

“Absolutely,” he said. “I’ve had some tested here. Every time I find dope that has horse tranquilizer in it, I tell everyone around don’t use it. And I tell people not to buy that stuff because it’s killing people and it’s really bad for your body.”

The Food and Drug Administration issued warnings about Xylazine last November, amid mounting concerns about the skin ulcers it causes on human bodies that can lead to amputation. People ingesting Xylazine can doze for days at a time, often keeling over on the street. There’s a danger their breathing will be suppressed, and their heart rate decreased.

“People are suffering terrible consequences because this was never meant for human consumption or repeated consumption,” Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget Brennan told PIX11 News.

Brennan said the Xylazine found in New York City is usually mixed with fentanyl – an exceptionally lethal drug – but Xylazine has also been combined with cocaine.

When looking at toxicology reports and overdose deaths, Brennan said she learned that 80% had fentanyl in their system and 20% had Xylazine.

“Which is a significant number since in and of itself, Xylazine is not a controlled substance,” she added.

Brennan pointed out that Xylazine is not found alone in toxicology reports and is typically mixed with other narcotics.

Although PIX11 News found jarring evidence last week of dual fentanyl and Xylazine addictions in Philadelphia, the city of Brotherly Love is not alone in combatting the problem. The special narcotics prosecutor is finding a growing number of drug mills in New York City using Xylazine to cut fentanyl and cocaine. The product is then sent to other cities in the Northeast.

After 100 people overdosed in Berks County, Pennsylvania in September 2021, with one of them dying, the district attorney there vowed to find the source of the bad batch of drugs, which included fentanyl and Xylazine. The Berks County district attorney reached out to Brennan’s office and the Drug Enforcement Task Force.  

In January 2022, Pennsylvania authorities arrested local suspects who allegedly sold the drugs in Berks County.

“And three days later, we were arresting people here in the city, those that had supplied the drugs,” Brennan said.

Brennan said the deadly mix was prepared at three drug stash houses in the Bronx, apartments located on Wallace Avenue, Park Avenue, and Wilkinson Avenue. In one mill, “glassines of death” – which sell for $5 a bag — were stamped with the word “ZONE 7.”

Brennan said there was another stash house, in a different case, on East 196 Street in Fordham Manor where a kilo of fentanyl, heroin, and Xylazine mixed together was stashed under children’s bunk beds. There was a “biohazard” logo stamped on the kilo. 

Back at the safe injection site in East Harlem, PIX11 News’ Mary Murphy met Rasheed Latham, who said tranq had shown up in his heroin.

“The tranq puts you straight to sleep,” Latham said. “It’s nothing like heroin. It destroys your body.”

Latham said he was fortunate to not develop sores.

Brennan said fentanyl, a synthetic opioid much cheaper to produce, has largely replaced heroin on the streets of New York City.

“The fentanyl is killing everybody,” Latham said. “It’s killing us. Everybody is dropping dead from this fentanyl now.”

More than 106,000 people died from an overdose in the United States in 2021, according to the National Institute of Health – and that alarming statistic was largely driven by fentanyl in the drug supply.

Drug users who have tranq in their heroin or fentanyl face a double danger because the suppressed breathing and slower heart rate caused by Xylazine can’t be reversed by the anti-opioid medicine Narcan.

“If they go for Narcan in the bar and try to revive them, and the person isn’t breathing right away, they need to call 911 immediately,” Brennan said. “The Xylazine isn’t going to be responsive to the Narcan.”

Anne Milgram, the administrator at the Drug Enforcement Administration, has asked another federal agency, Health and Human Services, to schedule Xylazine as a controlled substance. The request was made 15 months ago.

“We are tracking Xylazine across the United States,” Milgram testified at a recent Senate hearing. “And there’s no question that it is an increasing threat.”

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