‘Zombie drug’ contributes to overdoses, is focus of House and Senate legislation
U.S. & World

‘Zombie drug’ contributes to overdoses, is focus of House and Senate legislation


The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) reported that 23 percent of fentanyl powder examined in 2022 contained xylazine, a veterinary tranquilizer.

The DEA found the tranquilizer in fentanyl collected in 48 states, including Virginia. However, federal, state and local law enforcement do not have the tools necessary to effectively track the substance or penalize traffickers who use it to increase profits.

U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, a former federal law enforcement officer, backed bipartisan legislation today to crack down on xylazine-adulterated fentanyl, which is contributing to overdoses in the U.S.

“Fatal drug overdoses remain the leading cause of unnatural death in Virginia,” Spanberger said. “That’s why we need to remain vigilant about new substances that could exacerbate fentanyl’s effects and take the lives of our fellow Virginians. And right now, I’m hearing concerns about the zombie drug — tranq — from Virginia law enforcement officials, community leaders, and recovery advocates.”

Combating Illicit Xylazine Act would address the abuse of xylazine by empowering law enforcement to go after these criminals, and would classify the illicit use of xylazine as a Schedule III substance under the Controlled Substances Act.

“Unfortunately, we haven’t seen the worst wave of death that this powerful and highly addictive drug can bring. As a former federal agent and CIA case officer who worked narcotics cases and tracked dangerous cartels, I recognize how tranq presents a unique threat to our communities. This bipartisan bill would give law enforcement at all levels more tools in their toolbox to penalize drug traffickers, protect our Virginia communities, and prevent more overdose deaths,” Spanberger said.

The legislation would strengthen efforts against the abuse of xylazine by:

  • Empowering DEA to track its manufacturing to prevent it from making it to the illicit market;
  • Requiring a report on prevalence, risks, and recommendations to best regulate illicit use of xylazine;
  • Ensuring all salts and isomers of xylazine are covered when restricting its illicit use; and
  • Declaring xylazine an emerging drug threat.

The Combating Illicit Xylazine Act is led in the U.S. House by Spanberger and five colleagues. Three senators lead the legislation’s companion bill in the U.S. Senate.

While not scheduled under the CSA, Xylazine powder can be purchased online for as little as $6 to $20 per kilogram. The drug causes depressed breathing and heart rate, unconsciousness, necrosis and even death. Xylazine is not an opioid, so naloxone does not reverse its effects.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.