'Tranq' in Chicago: Officials warn of new street drug causing massive harm

Drug dealers are selling powders and pills that contain fentanyl, but now a dangerous animal tranquilizer is being added to the mix.

Xylazine in humans can cause open wounds, amputations and even death.

In a Fox 32 special report, Elizabeth Matthews shows the dangers of what's known on the street as "Tranq."

It’s been almost two years since 29-year-old Tommy Krausmann died from a drug poisoning. His parents Laura and Tom said the coroner found fentanyl in his system and also something called xylazine.

"Tommy passed away in our house, and we thought it was an overdose," Tom said.

"I also know that he thought he was getting heroin, probably with some fentanyl in it. He had no idea of anything called xylazine," Laura said.

At the time, no one did.

Tom says even the coroner admittedly had to research the drug when it came back on a toxicology report.


Xylazine is used by veterinarians as a large animal tranquilizer and has never been tested on humans. When mixed with other drugs, like opioids, it can be a deadly combo.

Tommy started with pills, oxycodone, which led him to heroin. He was witty, musical and loved conversation.

"When it happened, we were very hopeful. He was, he was good," Tom said.

Tommy died in October 2021. Now nearly two years later, xylazine is starting to find its place more and more on coroner reports, so much so that the DEA recently issued a public safety alert about tranq.

"On a national scale, xylazine has shown up in 23% of fentanyl powder seizures that the DEA has seized, and about 7% of the fake pills laced with fentanyl. Here in Chicago, we’re also seeing exponential increase in the amount of xylaxine in the drugs we are seizing," said Luis Agostini, Public Information Officer for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Chicago Division.

In Cook County, it was detected in about 100 drug poisonings, a number that is climbing over the past three years. And in Lake County, there were two xylazine-related deaths last year, but seven already this year.

"What we’re finding is people didn’t know what it was," said Laura Fry, the Executive Director at Live4Lali.

Fry is with Live4Lali, a recovery and overdose prevention organization-based program in the northern suburbs. They take their services on the road and offer users clean supplies and support.

Xylazine, or tranq as it’s called on the street, has been found mixed with cocaine or meth, but most commonly combined with fentanyl.

"When xylazine is combined with fentanyl, it gives a boost," Fry said.

Fry says it makes the high last longer and for illicit drug producers, they can stretch the supply.

And Live4Lali's outreach teams are starting to see the effects. Users are showing up with open wounds.

"And not at site of injection. They’re typically showing up on arms and legs. We’re seeing some association with the wounds developing where people have a scrape or a cut," Fry said.

The open sores are so bad they can result in amputation. This is being seen in Philadelphia, ground zero for tranq.

"Both of my arms actually, they were like completely open, like you could see the bone inside," said Melanie Beddis, who is in recovery for the drug.

Xylazine has other symptoms.

"It can cause dizziness, blurred vision. It can cause someone’s heart rate to slow down, their breathing to slow down," said Dr. Wilnise Jasmin, medical director of Behavioral Health at the Chicago Department of Public Health.

Jasmin said xylazine is not an opioid and its effects cannot be reversed with Naloxone or Narcan, but she urges users to still carry the opioid antidote.

"Because we do see xylazine often mixed with opioids and by administering Narcan, the effects of decreased breathing can be reversed," Jasmin said.

The state is reporting that from 2019 to mid-2021, there were 195 xylzaine-related deaths, close to 80% identified xylazine as the cause of death.

Now more than ever, healthcare workers and outreach workers are raising awareness on this new addition to the street drug supply. But for the Krausmann family, it's two years too late.

"If love could have stopped my son from using, obviously, he’d be sitting here with us talking about this," Laura said.

While there's already a test strip to see if fentanyl is mixed in with a drug, currently there is not one for xylazine. Suppliers are working feverishly on developing one that will hopefully warn users before a deadly dose.