Nat Geo Looks at Addiction in Puerto Rico


As part of its ongoing series “Drugs, Inc.,” the National Geographic Channel has investigated a rise in heroin addiction in Puerto Rico along with a new and even more dangerous drug scourge: Xylazine. So far, xylazine, a horse tranquilizer that goes under the street nickname “anesthesia,” is only rampant in Puerto Rico. The fear is that it may make its way into the states.

Xylazine: Effects, Intended Uses, and Why It's a Problem

The story is both compelling and heartbreaking. Some of the images and scheduled airing can be found here. The episode is titled “Zombie Island” to reflect some of the effects of anesthesia, a kind of waking sleep in which users stumble around and pass in and out of awareness. This drug is said to be even more addictive than heroin and far more damaging.

Xylazine is both cheap and readily available in Puerto Rico. It is used in veterinary medicine to knock out large animals for certain procedures. For example, it may be used in horses as anesthesia for dental procedures or castration. What’s really shocking is how heroin addicts on the island become addicted.

Because heroin is in such great demand in Puerto Rico, substances are sought by dealers to dilute the product they offer. This extends the amount of heroin they can sell to addicts. Anesthesia was just such a diluent. Added to heroin, users didn’t even know they were getting a different, even more addictive drug with their dose.

The story follows one such addict who started with heroin and became hooked on xylazine as well. He now has two simultaneous addictions, both of which require injections at least twice a day.

Xylazine in the States

A report in the journal Substance Abuse, Treatment, Prevention and Policy outlines what is known about xylazine and mentions that it has already been found in Philadelphia. One worry is that it will make its way into the New York heroin scene because of the migration from Puerto Rico to New York.

The author found a great deal of information about anesthesia from Puerto Rican drug addicts who were receiving treatment in New York for their addictions. Drug addicts being sent to the mainland for treatment is common since there are no travel restrictions between Puerto Rico and other states.

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