A street drug which rots the skin of those who use it has been designated an “emerging threat to the nation” by the White House.
Last month, Sky News revealed the impact Tranq – a mixture of the opioid fentanyl and the animal tranquiliser Xylazine – is having on communities in Philadelphia.
Since then, data suggests use of the drug is spreading rapidly all over the country.
Speaking to reporters, the head of the White House Office for National Drug Control Policy, Dr. Rahul Gupta expressed alarm at the prevalence of the cocktail.
“I’m deeply concerned about what this threat means for the nation,” he said, adding: “This is the first time in our nation’s history that a substance is being designated as an emerging threat by any administration,”
In a special report filmed over a series of days last month, Sky News examined the impact the drug is having on a community in the north-eastern city of Philadelphia where the cocktail first emerged.
With help from volunteer medics and outreach workers we were shown the horrific wounds caused by the drug which is smoked, snorted or injected. Unusually the wounds appear randomly on the body.
Frequently, they are deep, they heal slowly and in many cases they lead to amputation.
Health officials in Philadelphia, speaking to Sky News last month, admitted they do not have a grip of their city’s crisis and warned that it would spread to other parts of the country.
Newly analysed data now shows a 1000% increase in overdoses linked to Tranq in southern American states suggesting a rapid and alarming spread.
The US is already experiencing a drug overdose crisis with the synthetic opioid fentanyl. Overdoses have surged to more than 100,000 a year.
Dealers are now cutting, or mixing, fentanyl with Xylazine creating the ‘Tranq’ cocktail to lower their costs and increase demand.
Users told Sky News that the new cocktail increases their addiction levels driving them to more hits a day.
White House officials formally notified Congress about the public health threat on Wednesday and say they will roll out a plan to tackle the crisis over the next 90 days.
Measures are likely to include more testing for users so they can identify if Xylazine is contained in their drug supply. Dr Gupta has also called for more funding for accessible treatment for users.
In Philadelphia, users told us adequate and accessible treatment was not easily available. America’s insurance-based health system significantly complicates the challenge.
Xylazine is readily available to dealers on the open market. It is used legally by veterinarians as an animal tranquilizer.
The Drug Policy Alliance advocates for harm reduction but also highlights the harm caused by drug prohibition.
In a statement, they told Sky News: “The Biden Administration must learn from the mistakes of the past.
“Crackdowns on prescription opioids and heroin created the conditions for fentanyl analogues to flourish and overtake the drug supply.
“And now history is once again repeating itself, with newer, potentially more harmful substances like Xylazine popping up and already overtaking some markets.
“Make no mistake, focusing on supply-side interdiction will only dig us deeper into this crisis and inevitably result in more loss of life.”