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Gwinnett medical examiner warns this drug is being seen in overdose deaths

The drug puts users in a zombie-like state and if mixed with fentanyl could be deadly.

GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. — A drug is being mixed with fentanyl in Gwinnett County and NARCAN can't reverse its effects, adding to overdose deaths, officials say.

The Gwinnett County Medical Examiner is warning people about the drug Tranq.

Tranq, otherwise known as Xylazine, is a sedative used in veterinary medicine. It puts users in a zombie-like state. In high doses or when mixed with fentanyl, it's deadly. Medical examiner, Dr. Carol Terry, says it's dangerous.

"I've never seen anything like this in my career before," Terry said. "And we're losing a whole segment of people."

Amanda Cerniglia has been treating horses for more than 15 years and is currently leading East West Veterinary Care in Canton.

Cerniglia says Xylazine is used to sedate animals three times the size of humans. It's also a muscle relaxer.

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"They tell us the stories of the vets that had the shot in their pocket, got kicked by a horse, and it went in their system -- and they drop dead," Cerniglia said.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, two milligrams of fentanyl is a potentially deadly dose. With Tranq, the effects could be even worse.

"(Tranq) acts on (the) central nervous system. It depresses the cardiac output. So, you can get a severely slow heart rate," Cerniglia said.

The numbers on the Gwinnett County Medical Examiner's drug overdose report show an uptick in finding Tranq in the systems of people who have fatally overdosed.

From 2015 to 2020, only one person died with Tranq in their system. In 2021, 28 people died with the drug in their system -- which is 14 percent of drug-related deaths in the county that year. In 2022, it rose to 31, which is 17 percent of drug-related deaths. 

Gwinnett County has already had two Tranq fatal overdoses this year.

"I don't know about how frequently the lab checkpoints were for it prior to 2021," Terry said about the data. "I think, with the opioid crisis, one of the things may have been it wasn't necessarily being screened."

The county's medical examiner said it may be popular because it isn't as expensive as similar drugs. Terry said it certainly shouldn't be mixed.

"I think it's interesting that we have not seen it in isolation, causing death by itself," Terry said.

Terry said NARCAN can't reverse the effects. Plus, hospitals may not be able to detect it in an individual's system to treat them properly. 

So, overall, stay away from this drug.

"Don't do it," Cerniglia said. "I mean, your chances of dying from it are very, very strong."


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