A 24-year-old, one-eye horse named Ernie is about to get an injection straight into his jugular vein.
For all intents and purposes, he takes it pretty well, he barely notices the prick and soon his head is drooping.
Dr. Justin Sabota is the veterinarian administering the injection at Sunset Hill Farms in Woodbine, Maryland. Ernie needs some electric shock therapy on his back leg to help torn muscles and ligaments grow faster.
What Sabota gave Ernie is a tranquilizer similar to xylazine, a drug that is fairly new on the streets of Baltimore, but has been used by vets to sedate large animals for decades.
“We do use xylazine quite a bit. And it’s very important, I keep it with me all the time,” Sabota said. “Now, I’m going to try to lock it up a little bit more in my controlled drug box, if you will, just because of what’s happening nationally.”
Xylazine is known as tranq on the streets and is making its way into the illegal opioid supply throughout the nation. The Drug Enforcement Administration found traces of the drug in opioids in at least 48 states and a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that tranq was present in 11% of the nation’s opioid overdoses in June.
The drug is much more prominent in Maryland. The CDC found that 80% of opioids tested at eight needle exchange sites in the state had tranq mixed in.
The drug is especially dangerous because it further depresses vital bodily functions, increasing the risk of overdose. A life-saving overdose reversal drug called Naloxone doesn’t work on tranq, making it even more concerning. People who end up taking the drug once it’s mixed in with their opioids can develop flesh wounds all over their body.