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CHICAGO — The DEA locally and across the nation are concerned over a rise in xylazine — an animal tranquillizer street dealers are mixing with fentanyl and other drugs.

Nationwide, the agency issued an alert last week warning the public that xylazine “is making the deadliest drug threat our country has ever faced, fentanyl, even deadlier.”

Known as “tranq” on the street, DEA Chicago spokesperson Luis Agostini said his office is very concerned on what they’re seeing around Chicago, Wisconsin and in Indiana.

“Street dealers are looking to create a more powerful high,” Agostini said. “They’re looking to extend the shelf life of drugs like fentanyl, heroin and cocaine.”

Two issues surrounding the rise is that xylazine is readily-available online for the veterinarian world and it’s not a federally-scheduled narcotic.

Xylazine was virtually unknown to law enforcement prior to 2017. Data below shows the number of DEA drug seizures containing the drug in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.

Data from the DEA

Xylazine is often deadly in humans and can provide horrible side effects — like having flesh rot. This January, the New York Times published an expansive article on “tranq dope” and the effects of the flesh-eating wounds.

One of the images shows a woman with an expansive flesh wound nearly covering her entire forearm.

The deadly mix of “tranq dope” usually contains xylazine, an opioid and a sedative, the outlet reported. DEA officials noted they have seized xylazine and fentanyl mixtures in 48 states. Their lab testing indicated in 2022 — approximately 23% of fentanyl powder and 7% of fentanyl pills seized contained the animal drug.

In Cook County, one person died of an xylazine-related overdose in 2018. The following year it jumped to 32. By 2021 it reached 113 and topped out at 160 so far last year.

Another reason that xylazine is so dangerous is that naloxone, better known as Narcan, is not effective against it because it’s not an opioid. However, in the event of a overdose where xylazine could be a possible culprit, officials are still advising to use Narcan.

This week at the Indiana Statehouse, lawmakers passed a bill requiring all state coroners test xylazine in suspected overdoses in an effort to expand statistics on how prevalent it is.

Last month at the Illinois Statehouse, Sen. Patrick Joyce introduced a bill that would add xylazine to the state’s Schedule 1 controlled substance act for human use.

The Food and Drug Administration began steps a month ago to try to limit the amount of xylazine being imported.

The National Drug and Alcohol Treatment Hotline is 1-800-662-HELP (4357).