Xylazine is surging in Pittsburgh, the next deadly drug could be here by summer

PITTSBURGH — First, it was heroin, then fentanyl. Now, it’s Xylazine, a powerful animal tranquilizer also known as Tranq. It’s exploding in the Pittsburgh area and it’s taking lives.

With the click of a mouse, anyone, anywhere can buy these chemicals on the dark web and whip up a deadly dose right in their own home. Assistant Special Agent in Charge, Christopher Giordano, with the FBI in Pittsburgh says as a dad of three, this is personal.

“It scares us just as much as it scares you,” ASAC Giordano tells Channel 11 News. “Do not think that this can’t happen here because it’s already here. We have to be out there in front of the mothers who are losing their children, in front of the fathers losing children, in front of the schools, telling these people this isn’t a scare tactic.”

Deadly doses of Xylazine, often mixed with fentanyl, and sometimes pressed into a tiny pill, are killing people. And one pill can kill.

“Suburban kids, high school kids, early teens, they’re not thinking anything of it because they’re taking a pill and they think a pill isn’t going to kill like something injected into your bloodstream will,” ASAC Giordano added.

Xylazine is a powerful animal sedative used in veterinary settings on large animals like horses. In humans, it can be deadly. Xylazine is also known as ‘Tranq’ or the ‘Zombie drug,’ because it eats away at human flesh.

“It’s made for an animal 20 times the size of a human,” Giordano says. “It’s usually being purchased on the dark web, coming from places like China or other counties where it’s easier to get.”

Michele Osteen lost her son, Ari to an overdose of fentanyl laced with Xylazine.

“People think it’s not going to happen to them,” Osteen said. “I was one of them.”

Osteen says her son became addicted to opiates after a sports injury.

“On a Sunday afternoon, he went out and he purchased what he thought was an opiate,” Osteen said. “It was fentanyl times six. The last thing he said to me at night was, ‘I love you mom. I’ll see you in the morning,’ but he never came down.”

Narcan doesn’t work with Xylazine because it’s not an opiate. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use Narcan on someone suspected of an overdose, because it can still save a life, especially if Xylazine is mixed with fentanyl which is an opiate.

With Xylazine, there also isn’t a standard for medical examiners or coroners to test for it. Unfortunately, drugs have to kill people or law enforcement has to seize drugs which are then identified in a lab before anyone knows what to test for.

Xylazine also isn’t a scheduled drug yet, because it’s a legitimate narcotic for horses or large farm animals. That means there’s no federal crime right now for law enforcement to target.

Now, there’s another deadly drug concoction popping up in large cities like Philadelphia. It’s called Dexmedetomidine. We asked ASAC Giordano what he’s learned about it.

“It’s starting in the major metropolitan areas and in about six to eight months we’ll unfortunately, probably see it start trickling out here,” ASAC Giordano added.

Dexmedetomidine is an even more powerful animal tranquilizer than Xylazine.

“It will give the person taking it a better high and my understanding of it, is it’s not going to eat away at the human flesh the way Xylazine does,” ASAC Giordano added.

Even with intelligence analysts putting out drug trends, ASAC Giordano says they just have to be on the lookout.

“What’s happening in Philly is unfortunately probably going to be here by the summertime,” ASAC Giordano added. “It’s unfortunate that people have to start dying or we’re seizing these drugs to say ‘hey we do have a problem with this and now it’s spreading.’”

These lethal chemical combinations, often coming from China or Mexico, can be ordered on the dark web and made by anyone.

“It is a terrible thought to think that the people we’re most responsible to protect - our children - could potentially be faced with a decision to take a pill,” ASAC Giordano added.

Giordano says it’s about getting out in front of students, fifth grade or younger and making parents, teachers, administrators and school resource officers aware so they can help stop these drugs from getting into the wrong hands.

“It breaks my heart every time I get a phone call from a new parent that is asking for help and can’t breathe,” Osteen said. “It breaks my heart.”

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