AUSTIN (KXAN) –  U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.) introduced a bill Wednesday to enhance understanding of the street drug xylazine, or “tranq” – an animal tranquilizer increasingly showing up nationally in illicit drug supplies. 

Cruz and Welch introduced the Testing, Rapid Analysis, and Narcotic Quality (TRANQ) Research Act to develop new tests for detection and establish better resources for the people working with the affected communities. 

Cruz talked with KXAN’s Sam Stark about how he hopes this new legislation will thwart the emerging threat so that xylazine won’t become as prevalent as fentanyl in the U.S. and Texas. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.  

What is xylazine, and how rampant is it in the U.S. and Texas? 

“We’re seeing that more and more law enforcement is encountering people who are taking a drug called xylazine,” Cruz said. “It’s a serious drug. It’s not an opioid, so Narcan, which is what is used for an opioid overdose, doesn’t work on it.”

“It’s something that’s called a ‘zombie drug’ in that it produces all sorts of really disturbing symptoms, including flesh wounds that won’t heal.” 

“We actually don’t have reliable data right now as to how prevalent tranq is. We’re seeing it, we’re encountering it more [and] we’ve encountered it in Texas,” he said.

“Along with the problems that are coming from fentanyl overdoses, which last year and across the United States, we had over 100,000 overdoses, the majority from fentanyl. But tranq is a growing threat.”

The Testing, Rapid Analysis, and Narcotic Quality (TRANQ) Research Act

“This week, I’ve introduced legislation – it’s bipartisan legislation with Peter Welch, Democrat from Vermont – the two of us have introduced [the bill] to study tranq. And in particular, studying means of detecting it,” Cruz said.

Currently, medical professionals do not have adequate testing measures to determine if someone who is overdosing has xylazine in their system, he said. 

“This is legislation that is common sense. Let’s get ready [and] hopefully, this will not become widely prevalent,” he said. “We need to be smart on the front end, to know how to detect it, and know how to step in and intervene to try to save people’s lives.” 

Just yesterday, Travis County released data saying that accidental fentanyl overdoses more than doubled from 2021 to 2022. What do you make of the Fentanyl crisis in the United States and in Texas?

“It is absolutely horrific. Fentanyl is an incredibly powerful and incredibly dangerous opioid,” Cruz said.

“I had a [Drug Enforcement Agency] agent who did an illustration with me. He sat down with a number of us at a table, and he had a packet of Sweet and Low.” 

“He said, ‘Okay, take your little finger and dip it into the packet. You’ll pull it out and see a couple of little granules of Sweet and Low that are still on your finger.’ And he said, ‘That is enough to kill you. That’s how powerful fentanyl is,’” Cruz said.

Cruz said what is different with fentanyl is that many of the people dying from fentanyl overdoses are not drug users. 

“They’re at a party, and some kid comes up and says, ‘Here, try a Xanax, try a Percocet, try Adderall.’ And the kid takes one pill, and they drop dead,” he said. 

“When you and I were kids, you’d go to a party, and maybe some kid would get drunk, and maybe someone would smoke a joint. But there wasn’t a huge risk that you were going to drop dead as a result of what was happening.”

“I gotta say, as a parent, it is terrifying,” Cruz said. 

Cruz said the key to reducing fentanyl in the country is strengthening the southern border. 

What does it say about xylazine, as an issue, that such a progressive Democrat and conservative Republican have come together to write this bill?

“I’m grateful to see that we can get bipartisan cooperation when it comes to things like the exploding drug epidemic. No family is immune,” Cruz said. 

“I’ll tell you, my older sister Maryam died of an overdose. She got addicted to painkillers after an auto accident. [One night], she took too many and never woke up the next morning.”

“This impacts everyone. Everyone has a family member, a friend or someone struggling with these issues. I’m hopeful with something like tranq – it is not, right now, everywhere – but I want us to act, get smart and understand it on the front end to prevent that from happening.”

“I don’t want to see us in three years talking about tranq the way we’re talking about fentanyl. I don’t want to see another 100,000 body bags.”