BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – There’s a dangerous new drug out there that’s been devastating U.S. cities for the past year and it does not respond to the lifesaving anti-opioid drug Narcan.

It’s a veterinary tranquilizer called Xylazine (pronounced ZIE-la-zeen) and it’s been wreaking havoc from Philadelphia to Los Angeles as a substitute for heroin and other opioids.

Is it already here in Bakersfield? It’s hard to say.

Xylazine is an FDA-approved drug used on large animals as a sedative and pain reliever. Veterinarians legitimately use drug products containing Xylazine to sedate cattle, horses and deer, but it is not safe for use in people and may cause serious and life-threatening side effects.

Among the more distasteful of those side effects: Rotting flesh at injection sites.

Since it was introduced on the street a few years ago, where it’s known by such nicknames as Tranq, law enforcement has been limited in its ability to fight its spread because Xylazine is not federally scheduled, making it easy to purchase online. 

But its illicit use – often in conjunction with the deadly and widespread opioid fentanyl – has skyrocketed in the past two years. and since Xylazine is not an opioid, the drug Naloxone, sold under the brand name Narcan, has no effect.

The lack of awareness and testing for Xylazine could mean its real impact has been underreported.

Many county coroner’s offices do not test for it – and Kern County is one of them. 

The coroner’s office issued a statement on Xylazine testing:

“Currently we do not (test for Xylazine). We are in the process of determining prevalence and costs. (Doing so) will require the Coroner’s office to run trial testing, changing procedures, and implementing the changes. We do not currently have an effective date.”

So we don’t know if Xylazine is even in Kern County, or if it has killed anyone. But, since Xylazine use seems to be following fentanyl’s trajectory in terms of its spread, the answer is almost certainly yes.

The FDA announced Tuesday it would start restricting imports of Xylazine. Agents are now authorized to detain shipments of the drug and its precursors to ensure they’re meant for legitimate use.

But the entire country is way behind in this race and things are likely to get much worse before they get better.