By Joshua Rhett Miller
The flesh-rotting animal tranquilizer killing unsuspecting users nationwide has significantly infiltrated drug mills in The Bronx — leading one expert to call New York City’s current drug supply its “most dangerous” ever.
The animal sedative xylazine, also known as “tranq,” arrives in the borough via box truck after being smuggled across the southwest US-Mexico border or through California, New York City Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget Brennan told The Post.
It’s then cut into other drugs — including fentanyl, heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine — at packaging mills, many near the Bronx Zoo.
“Generally, they’re apartments in medium-sized buildings in nondescript areas,” Brennan said of the drug mills. “Places that wouldn’t draw attention.”
From there, the dangerous drugs are distributed throughout the city and the entire Northeast — leaving Bronx neighborhoods like Melrose, Bathgate and Morris Heights especially ravaged, data shows.
“Overall, our black-market drug supply in the city is probably the most dangerous that I’ve ever seen,” Brennan said. “People who believe they’re buying one drug may well get another drug that they have no tolerance for whatsoever. Xylazine is certainly a part of that sad story.”
In April, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy designated fentanyl adulterated with xylazine as an “emerging threat” while citing a staggering 1,127% rise in xylazine-positive overdose deaths in the South and a 103% spike in the Northeast.
More than 3,100 people died of drug overdoses in New York City last year, according to CDC estimates cited by Brennan’s office in its annual report released in late June.
Roughly 80% of deadly overdoses citywide are due to fentanyl, while cocaine is involved in about 47% of fatalities, city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene data shows.
Meanwhile, xylazine, which can cause severe horrific skin lesions and rotting flesh, factors into 10 to 20% of all overdose deaths citywide, depending on the neighborhood.
“It’s a very significant factor in New York,” Brennan said. She is calling on Congress to pass the Combating Illicit Xylazine Act to make xylazine a controlled substance.
Tranq isn’t just mixed into hard drugs in powder form, Brennan said. The potent muscle relaxant is also pressed into pills sold online, including on social media, she said.
“They might be sold as Xanax, or Adderall or Oxycodone,” Brennan said. “And those are just as deadly as the powders.”
Xylazine and the chemicals used to make fentanyl often originate in China, where online suppliers charge up to $20 per kilogram, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The “low price” of the veterinary tranquilizer with no known human antidote is a boon for drug traffickers due to its psychoactive effects allowing them to cut fentanyl or heroin mixtures, according to a DEA report on xylazine.
Meanwhile, Brennan’s office said 8 of 10 city precincts experiencing the highest levels of fatal overdoses this year are in The Bronx.
The Bronx led the city in fatal overdoses citywide involving xylazine last year, while Staten Island had the highest rate overall when considering population, according to the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor’s 2022 annual report.
David Frank, an assistant research scientist at the NYU School of Global Public Health, said northern Harlem and Washington Heights in Manhattan are also xylazine hot spots.
“Yeah, you totally see people passed out in a different kind of way than if they were just nodding from opioids,” Frank told The Post. “And it’s totally visible, and they’re totally out in the open, or in the park — you can see it.”
Some addicts explicitly seek out fentanyl and its powerful high, but that’s not the case with xylazine for most of its unwitting users, Frank said.
“Almost every single drug user I know, they would rather it not be there,” he said. “People want to live, they don’t want to die.”
Vanda Felbab-Brown, a drug policy expert and senior fellow at Brookings Institution, characterized xylazine as a “terrible development” in the ongoing drug crisis since the nonopioid can’t be reversed by naloxone and can cause necrotic tissue that requires amputation.
Felbab-Brown questioned the city’s plan of urging users to take xylazine under medical supervision at overdose prevention centers, saying that while she supported risk-reduction measures, the practice may be misguided for tranq.
“I’m not sure we want to be encouraging specifically injecting xylazine,” she said. “It’s much better to put people on methadone maintenance, or even heroin maintenance, and allow them to buy a supply rather than risking overdose and the necrotic effect.”