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'It's obviously a problem': Peoria County Coroner Jamie Harwood talks about rising 'tranq' usage

Peoria County Coroner Jamie Harwood says tranq is an "obvious problem" in Central Illinois.
Collin Schopp
Peoria County Coroner Jamie Harwood says tranq is an "obvious problem" in Central Illinois.

Coroner Jamie Harwood says a drug called “tranq” is a problem in Peoria County.

“Right now, we’re just past our first quarter and 20% of our drug overdoses contained tranq in it,” he said. “So it’s obviously a problem.”

Tranq is short for tranquilizer and a trade name for the drug xylazine. Harwood said xylazine is generally used by veterinarians as a sedative, but is being mixed into fentanyl to increase demand. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)says xylazine “is making the deadliest drug threat our country has ever faced, fentanyl, even deadlier.” The DEA reports seizing mixtures including the drug in 48 states.

“It supposedly lengthens the high,” Harwood said. “Therefore, the users unfortunately don’t know what’s in there and they take a quantity that takes their life.”

Users of xylazine also experience wounds and lesions from needle usage and infections that Harwood said leads to other illnesses that are more complicated to deal with. Additionally, the mixture is resistant to the overdose-reversing drug Narcan, or naloxone, because xylazine is a sedative, not an opioid.

“It doesn't preclude any family member from giving their loved one Narcan when they are going through that overdose,” said Harwood. “Because the Narcan is going to reverse the opioid and hopefully reduce the effects…so don’t quit using it, of course.”

If you have a substance abuse disorder, Harwood recommends taking extra precautions, like drug testing available through services such as Jolt Harm Reduction of Peoria.

“The other thing, too, I know this is difficult,” said Harwood. “When you have that need and feel that desire for treatment, start seeking it out now, because it's going to be incredibly difficult to get to treatment.”

National Donate Life Month

April is National Donate Life Month, a time where the state, local and federal government focuses on public education about organ and tissue donation.

Harwood said the need for organ donors is high. Individuals with kidney failure spend an average of five to seven years undergoing dialysis three times a week while waiting for a transplant.

“So what that looks like in broad terms is 77,000 people across the U.S. right now are waiting on a kidney, it only takes one for the donation,” said Harwood. “And to give you a further number, every nine minutes, someone's added to that national registry for a much needed organ transplant.”

The county coroner is involved in the first steps of the organ donation process. When someone dies, coroners determine the manner and cause of death to find out if they will be eligible for organ donation or not. It’s also on the coroner to find out if an individual is a registered donor and collaborate with local hospitals to determine the best way to move forward.

“A lot of times unfortunately, these are victims of violence and the families want to make sure their loved ones are getting justice,” said Harwood. “And they want to make sure that they're able to donate as well. And we make that happen every time.”

If you’re not sure if you’re registered as an organ donor, you can find more information on the Illinois Secretary of State’s website here, as well as from the organization Gift of Hope here.

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Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.