Animal Tranquilizer Xylazine Linked to Overdose Deaths in Michigan

The powerful animal tranquilizer xylazine has no intended uses for humans, making it extremely dangerous when addicts consume drugs tainted with xylazine.

Michigan city

One of the most concerning trends in 21st-century drug addiction is the increasing likelihood that drug addicts will use multiple drugs at once, whether they are aware of it or not. This trend is extremely dangerous. Known as polysubstance abuse, using multiple drugs can lead to unpredictable side effects and even death.

In Michigan, this trend is being played out in real-time, with breaking news stories reporting hundreds of deaths connected to an animal tranquilizer spliced into addicts’ drug supply.

What’s Happening in Michigan

In an MLive news article from September 27th, 2022, Michigan journalists reported that a non-opioid animal tranquilizer laced with other drugs had officially been linked to at least 171 overdose deaths in Michigan between 2019 and 2021. Though experts confirmed the 171 figure, they insisted it was almost certainly an undercount.1

But why xylazine? Most experts believe drug dealers are mixing xylazine into fentanyl to make the fentanyl high last longer, thus making the drug more desirable to addicts. Xylazine has also been found in heroin, amphetamine, methamphetamine, and other mind-altering drugs.

Because xylazine is not an opioid, when addicts overdose on it, they do not respond to Narcan or Naloxone. That makes such overdoses all the more dangerous, as Narcan/Naloxone is one of the primary ways addicts are saved from dying during an overdose.

Xylazine Defined

Sleeping horses

Xylazine is a tranquilizer used for sedation, anesthesia, muscle relaxation, and pain relief in large animals, mainly horses and cattle. The spread of xylazine into Michigan’s illicit drug supply is a new development, but this is not the first time public health experts and law enforcement have put out warnings regarding xylazine. Warnings of xylazine abuse go back to toxicology reports in Philadelphia drug overdose deaths in 2006. Further, xylazine was involved in at least 19% of drug overdose deaths in Maryland in 2021 and 10% of overdose deaths in Connecticut in 2020.2

The fact that xylazine overdoses are now occurring in Michigan (a Midwest state) suggests the practice of adding xylazine to other drugs is becoming more widespread. If fast action isn’t taken to help addicts seek treatment, overdoses connected to xylazine will almost certainly go up in Michigan and begin to surface in other states further west.

The Dangers of Xylazine and Polysubstance Abuse

Sometimes referred to as “tranq,” xylazine is a central nervous system depressant. It can cause drowsiness and amnesia, slow breathing, and a drop in the user’s heart rate and blood pressure to dangerously low levels. Since the drug is intended for large animals 4-7 times heavier than humans, the tranquilizer’s effect, even in very small doses, can easily be fatal when consumed by a human. When combined with other potent, life-threatening drugs like opioids, users dramatically increase their risks of a fatal overdose.

If addicts survive their first exposure to a xylazine-laced drug, they are likely to experience harmful long-term effects if they continue experimenting with xylazine. Effects can include:

  • Abscesses
  • Skin ulcers
  • Respiratory problems
  • Long-term memory loss
  • Cardiovascular complications

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 50% of all drug overdose deaths in the U.S. now involve multiple drugs. If the trend continues, some experts are concerned that emergency response to drug overdoses will become virtually useless, as it is almost impossible to revive an addict who is overdosing on multiple drugs at once.3

The story out of Michigan is a dire one on its own. But in many ways, it warns of what may be on the horizon. While the opioid addiction epidemic may have been the most serious drug problem of the first two decades of the 21st century, many treatment experts and addictionologists are concerned that polysubstance abuse will be the next dire drug epidemic in the decades to come.

Thankfully, public health experts and policymakers are sounding the alarm about polysubstance abuse. Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, warned of this development in 2020. In her words, “Although we often talk about individual drugs and drug use disorders in isolation, the reality is that many people use drugs in combination and also die from them in combination… The complex reality of polysubstance use is already a research area that NIDA funds, but much more work is needed. The recognition that we face a drug addiction and overdose crisis, not just an opioid crisis, should guide research, prevention, and treatment efforts going forward.” Warnings like these, followed by prevention efforts and treatment for addicts, must be how people in Michigan (and all U.S. states) address the constantly evolving addiction crisis.4

Getting Help for an Addicted Loved One

Drug addiction is a life-threatening crisis. It’s made all the more dangerous by newer drug trends like an increasing prevalence of fentanyl in the drug supply (a highly potent drug) and an increasing tendency to mix multiple drugs and use them as one (polysubstance abuse). These trends are part of why the CDC reported that 107,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2021, the highest death toll ever reported.5

Given the danger, family members and loved ones of addicts must take fast action to help their addicted loved ones get off of drugs. If you know someone struggling with an addiction, please help them find and enter treatment as soon as possible. Please don’t wait until it is too late.


  1. MLive. “Animal tranquilizer xylazine linked to 171 opioid deaths in Michigan since 2019.” MLive, 2022. ↩︎

  2. NIDA. “Xylazine.” National Institute of Drug Abuse, 2022. ↩︎

  3. CDC. “Polysubstance Use Facts.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022. ↩︎

  4. NIDA. “Rising Stimulant Deaths Show that We Face More than Just an Opioid Crisis.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2020. ↩︎

  5. CDC. “Fighting Fentanyl: The Federal Response to a Growing Crisis.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022. ↩︎