Flesh-rotting street drug ‘tranq’ has been in L.A. for years
It’s been at least four years since Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department officials said they began finding signs that a dangerous tranquilizer was infiltrating the local drug supply.
At the time, the presence of xylazine — an animal tranquilizer — was not known to the general public, although it has since become increasingly common, particularly on the East Coast. Also known as “Tranq,” the powerful tranquilizer has been linked to deaths across the country and can cause human tissue to rot. Leaving users with grisly whereands which sometimes lead to amputations.
However, because the drug, despite its harmfulness, is not a controlled substance, the Sheriff’s Department’s crime lab did not perform further testing to confirm the results and did not alert the public.
“Our mission is very narrow: we confirm the presence of controlled substances,” said Joseph Cavaleri, an acting senior criminal investigator in the controlled substances division of the department’s crime lab. “Right now we’re not doing that with xylazine because it’s not a controlled substance.”
But he confirmed that the lab’s gas chromatography-mass spectrometry tests had been picking up evidence of the drug’s presence in samples for years.
“As an analyst, I saw that four years ago,” Cavaleri said. Since then, the substance has surfaced “from time to time,” but he said it’s not clear how often because the sheriff’s department doesn’t track it. It’s also not clear where these samples came from in the county, or if they were part of a major confiscation or a small bust.
Drug experts in Los Angeles were surprised to learn that evidence of the drug’s presence in local drug stores had been around for so long.
“I’m surprised it’s been showing up for several years,” said Chelsea Shover, an epidemiologist and public health researcher at UCLA. “But it’s consistent with the other anecdotal evidence I’ve heard.”
Steven Shoptaw, a UCLA professor of family medicine who studies substance abuse, echoed Shover’s response.
“I’m literally in shock,” he said.
That’s partly because officials have given the public few clear indications of their findings until this year. In February, confirmed a county health official told The Times that one man – a 25-year-old from El Monte – had traces of xylazine in his body when he died in December 2021. But the drug was present in such small quantities that the district physician listed “combined effects of ethanol and fentanyl” as the cause of death.
Then, two weeks ago, the county Department of Health issued a press release warning Angelenos that the tranquilizer was “increasingly present in illicit drugs in California” and that it was now “probably present” in Los Angeles. The press release mentioned the 2021 death and several others elsewhere in the state. But while it said xylazine had been found in samples from northern and southern cities, it said nothing about whether there had been similar finds on the ground.
according to dr According to Brian Hurley, the medical director of the department’s Substance Abuse Prevention and Control unit, it’s because public health officials hadn’t yet learned about it.
“The data that we get from law enforcement is typically focused on law enforcement’s mission,” Hurley said. “At the time of the press release, we had not yet received this information from the Sheriff’s Department.”
Those details came in a day later, he said.
“Although the sheriff’s department information corroborated our message, I don’t think they changed the underlying message that xylazine is common in the community and the public needs to be aware of it,” Hurley continued, saying that he grateful for this is LASD’s partnership on the subject.
It’s not clear if the Los Angeles Police Department’s crime lab had similar findings, as the department didn’t respond to questions from the Times this week.
The news follows a press release from the Drug Enforcement Administration warning Americans that xylazine is being used in illicit drug shipments across the country.
Although used for animals in veterinary facilities, the drug is not approved for human use. “Tranq” is often mixed with fentanyl, heroin, and fake pills, making potentially dangerous drugs even more dangerous. Because xylazine is not an opioid, overdosing on the drug naloxone will not reverse its effects.
“Xylazine makes the deadliest drug threat our country has ever faced, fentanyl, even deadlier,” said DEA Administrator Anne Milgram. “DEA has seized mixtures of xylazine and fentanyl in 48 out of 50 states. The DEA Laboratory System reports that in 2022, approximately 23% of fentanyl powder and 7% of fentanyl pills seized by the DEA contained xylazine.”
The combination of the two drugs makes an overdose even more likely, according to the DEA.
The agency did not comment on an inquiry sent Wednesday whether its crime labs had detected the drug in the Los Angeles area — although federal authorities said earlier this year they had repeatedly found it in San Diego and the Imperial counties.
Kelly McKay, a spokeswoman for the DEA’s San Diego field office, said San Diego Union Tribune in January that xylazine turned up in drug tests four times in fiscal 2021 and 19 times in the year after. So compared to the number of drug seizures per year, xylazine was still a relative rarity, being present in less than 1% of the samples tested.
“In relation to all the drug exhibits seized, this is a small number of exhibits,” McKay wrote in an email.
in San Francisco, Local authorities issued a warning in February after small amounts of the drug were found in the systems of four people who died from an overdose between mid-December and mid-January.
Part of the reason the drug is so popular, Shoptaw explained, may be because it makes the fentanyl high last longer, helping users stave off withdrawal.
“Fentanyl has a very fast half-life, and when you include xylazine with fentanyl, it does two things,” he said. “It reduces some of the painful symptoms of opioid withdrawal. [And] it prolongs the effects of fentanyl so you don’t have to top up as quickly.”
But aside from showing up as an adulterant in fentanyl powder and heroin, Cavaleri said the tranquilizer has also appeared in fake pills — including at least once in a fake Xanax. Usually when it’s in a mix, Cavaleri added, the sedative shows up at a lower concentration than the main drug.
“It’s been here for a while,” he continued, “but we don’t know how much and to what extent.”
More extensive testing is needed to find out, Shover said.
“Evidence suggests that xylazine is present in Los Angeles at greater levels than previously thought,” she said. “However, since there is no systematic testing for this, it is difficult to know how much.”
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2023-03-22/la-sheriff-knew-about-tranq-four-years-ago Flesh-rotting street drug ‘tranq’ has been in L.A. for years