Worried about the growing illicit use of the animal tranquilizer Xylazine, also known as Tranq, a group of senators and representatives introduced the TRANQ Research Act of 2023 this week to mandate the creation of new tests for its detection and improve understanding overall.
In the Senate, this push was taken up by Commerce Committee Ranking Member Ted Cruz (R-TX) and U.S. Sen. Peter Welch (D-VT). U.S. Reps. Mike Collins (R-GA) and Yadira Caraveo (D-CO) introduced companion legislation (H.R. 1734) in the House. Both seek changes for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), directing the agency to work more closely with front-line entities dealing with the effects of the drug on the street as it works to enhance its knowledge of its use.
“The scourge of the drug epidemic continues to ravage communities in Texas and across the country,” Cruz said. “To protect our citizens, we must work swiftly to prevent deadly new drugs like tranq and the truly horrifying side effects that come with it from taking hold. I am proud to work on a bipartisan basis with Senator Welch to improve our knowledge of these devastating drugs so we can aid those on the frontline of this battle.”
Xylazine is not a new drug. First discovered in the 1960s, it later earned approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use as an animal tranquilizer and muscle relaxant for dogs, cats, horses, and several species of deer. The problem is that starting in 2020, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) began to report leaping uses of the drug, with 198 percent growth among people in the South between 2020 and 2021 and 112 percent in the West.
The DEA at the time noted that the presence of xylazine in illicit drug combinations and its detection in fatal overdoses may be even more widespread than reported because it is not often included in forensic lab or toxicology testing. Worse, the drug itself is resistant to standard opioid overdose treatments such as Narcan, as it is not itself an opioid. However, it is often combined with drugs like fentanyl and Xanax.
“We need to address this crisis now, but we can’t do that without better information,” Welch said. “I’m proud to join Sen. Cruz on this bipartisan bill to enhance our understanding of Tranq and other street drugs. With better information, we can get resources directly to those working on the frontlines and combat the rise of these dangerous new drugs.”
In April, the Office of National Drug Control Policy also responded to the growing use of xylazine by labeling it an emerging threat to the United States, the first time a substance has formally received such a declaration.