MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. — The Martin County Sheriff's Office is reporting the first signs of the drug xylazine in the area.
Deputies said the deadly drug has been plaguing the nation and it is resistant to the overdose reversal tool known as Narcan.
"You know, you're costing somebody their life. You're costing somebody their kid," said John Nelson, the founder of Familiesrecover.org.
Deputies said xylazine, or tranq, was found mixed with fentanyl after lab results from an arrest in 2022.
"Ryan passed away just over four years ago," said Ellen Isaacs, who battled her own addiction and has become an advocate against opioids since the loss of her son. "It was a fentanyl overdose, and he struggled with addiction for 17 years."
She added: "They call it tranq because it is a tranquilizer for horses. That's where they came up with the name tranq. And it's eating away with the kids' skin and it's eating away all the way down to the muscle, the bone, and some people have had to have their limbs removed."
The drug is not approved for use by humans.
Since the death of her son, Isaacs has been helping people with recovery but said that with tranq in the community, it adds new hurdles.
"Just when you didn't think it was going to get any worse, and we get one foot in the door and we have some kind of level playing field going on, we get slammed again," said Isaacs.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, by the end of 2021 there were 107,653 reported drug overdose deaths. But only 1.2% were attributed to tranq in 23 states though testing for xylazine was not standard.
Drug-related deaths from it rose from 0.3% to 6.7% between 2015 and 2020, according to a 2022 report published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
Among deaths in 2019, the CDC reported 826 positive xylazine cases and 531 with xylazine involved.
"You know, when you got somebody that's in the trade that's making like molly or they're taking fentanyl and they're cutting it with tranq, it's all about the profit margin," said Nelson.
Nelson plans to ramp up his awareness efforts as he said tranq is resistant to overdose reversal tools such as Narcan.
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"What can we do when Narcan don't work, I think that we should get body bags together. I hate to be that blunt, but that's what it comes down to," said Nelson. "Fentanyl, we can Narcan you, but now we're dealing with a beast that's not stoppable."
The Martin County Sheriff's Office plans to send additional samples of fentanyl involved with deadly overdoses over the past year to be tested to see if they were laced with tranq.
"When they figure this one out, the dealers are already working on the next strategy," said Nelson.
Deputies said the person arrested in the 2022 case was handed over to federal authorities and she faces four years in prison.