State lawmakers are considering a pair of bills that would name the flesh-rotting animal sedative known as “tranq” a controlled substance in New York — even though similar efforts failed in the Legislature several years ago.
The proposed legislation — S-5439 in the state Senate and A-5914 in the Assembly – would make xylazine, aka tranq, a schedule III drug, putting it on par with other potentially-dangerous tranquilizers such as ketamine, according to the bills.
While Democrats introduced both measures, Assemblyman Brian Maher, a Republican who represents several upstate counties, believes they will get overwhelming bipartisan support.
“I imagine both our parties will get together on this one,” Maher recently told The Post. “Too many people are just being killed and overdosing [on fentanyl and xylazine].”
“It’s got to be a priority for all of us,” Maher said. “And I would imagine that if you had this conversation with every single legislator, they’d all agree.”
It’s not the first time lawmakers have tried to address xylazine, a legal veterinary sedative that’s slithered into the illicit drug supply and left in its wake legions of semi-conscious addicts bumbling mindlessly through drug-riddled neighborhoods in cities like Philadelphia and Chicago.
But the need to get a handle on the “zombie drug” has become more urgent as the breadth of the tranq epidemic becomes clearer.
Dealers desperate to cut their drugs with cheap additives have laced their supplies with so much tranq that medical professionals are warning users that the lesion-causing killer even lurks in mainstream party drugs like cocaine.
The US Drug Enforcement Administration has found that about 15% of all drugs tested in its northeast regional laboratory include xylazine, Frank Tarentino, the special agent in charge of the DEA’s New York Division, recently told The Post.
Of those, 85% contained a viciously lethal mix of xylazine and the synthetic opioid fentanyl, Tarentino added.
The New York State Senate tried to tackle the burgeoning crisis about seven years ago, when a bill declaring tranq a controlled substance unanimously sailed through the Republican-controlled chamber.
But the measure died in the Democrat-controlled Assembly, as did a similar bill that cleared the Senate the following year.
It’s not clear why the bills failed.
Representatives for the Democratic majorities in both chambers did not respond to requests for comment.
But sources told The Post that Democrats may have been reluctant to give the bills’ sponsor, former GOP state Sen. Terrence Murphy, any kind of win because they were targeting his seat in the 40th District, which covers parts of Dutchess, Putnam and Westchester Counties, in 2018.
It paid off: Murphy was defeated that year by Peter Harckham, a longtime Democratic politico who narrowly won the seat after a blue wave swamped then-President Donald Trump’s midterm elections.
“Senate Republicans have led the charge to crack down on deadly heroin mixes – this is a common-sense measure that would help law enforcement hold dealers accountable,” Senate GOP Leader Rob Ortt said through a spokesperson.
“To truly address the addiction crisis, not only do we need to provide help to those who are struggling, we need to get serious about cracking down on dangerous drug dealers who are peddling these poisons,” Ortt continued. “Unfortunately, the only plan we’ve seen from Albany Democrats is the creation of more safe injection sites.”
If the new bills pass, Maher said they would give law enforcement the tools needed to respond to the tranq outbreak, which has swept across America with increasing intensity during the last few years.
“It allows them to utilize that classification and create incentives for people to really think twice before they use this drug,” Maher said. “That’s why I’m confident this will pass … I can’t imagine it not going through and getting signed by the governor.”
Governors in other states, such as Pennsylvania and Ohio, have unilaterally decided to make tranq a controlled substance in light of the epidemic.
But that hasn’t happened in New York.
Although Gov. Kathy Hochul has publicly said the state needs to do more to halt the flow of illegal drugs – including xylazine – her office indicated any change in the drug’s designation must go through the Legislature.
It’s not clear if she supports changing that designation.
Her office did not respond to further inquiries.
The federal government also appears to be moving toward restricting xylazine, which is not regulated like similar drugs, such as ketamine.
Getting the drug scheduled federally is a long, arduous process that winds through several different agencies, a DEA representative said.
But lawmakers might be a step ahead.
Bipartisan legislation was proposed in both the US Senate and the House of Representatives in March to make tranq a schedule III controlled drug across the country.
Nearly 40 state attorneys general – including New York’s Letitia James – signed on to support the bill, dubbed the “Combating Illicit Xylazine Act.”
As of last week, it was still sitting in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Other than finally scheduling tranq, the bill would let the DEA track manufacturing so xylazine doesn’t make its way to illicit markets; would declare the drug an emerging threat; and would require reporting on how to best regulate it, according to a press release from its primary sponsor, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nevada).
“This bipartisan legislation will ensure the DEA and local law enforcement have the tools they need to get xylazine off our streets while protecting its important use as a veterinary tranquilizer,” Cortez Masto said.
“Drug traffickers are going to great lengths to pad their profits with dangerous drugs like tranq,” she added.
“We need to empower law enforcement to crack down on its spread in our communities.”