Use of Animal Tranquilizer Guns in Humans

David Asks:

In my new work in progress I have a woman shot with a tranquilizer gun. She is a former head ER nurse and is on the road. She has a well stocked medical kit. What would she have that could be injected to counteract the tranquilizer? Is there a particular tranquilizer they would use on her? They want her alive.

Jordyn Says:

Thanks so much for sending me your question.

This is an interesting question that you ask. The first part that should be answered is what kinds of drugs are generally used in animal tranquilizer guns. I was fairly surprised to see some of the same drugs we use in humans like opiates (Morphine and Fentanyl.) Interestingly, it looks from this article that the opioid compound used is called M99 which is 10,000 times more potent than morphine and one drop is lethal to humans. It is reversible with a drug called Narcan or naloxone.

A second class of drugs that is used in humans also used in animal tranquilizer guns are the benzodiazepines. For humans these would be drugs like valium, ativan and versed. There is a reversal agent for this class of drugs as well. We call it flumazenil.

Two other drugs were listed in the article. Another drug that we use in humans was a substance that is related to ketamine but does not have a reversal agent. The last, azaperone, which is not familiar to me as a drug used in humans and is also not reversible.

If your ER nurse had a well stocked medical kit then she would have the drug naloxone on hand to reverse an opiate drug if that was used in the tranquilizer dart. What’s both interesting and sad about naloxone is that it is becoming readily available to the public because of the drug problem in the USA. So, even if your ER nurse didn’t have a well stocked medical kit she could probably find some as long as the dart didn’t immediately kill the victim. Opiates cause death by inhibiting your respiratory drive. You simply stop breathing. There are certainly other effects but this is the primary one.

The other drug, flumazenil, that reverses benzodiazepines isn’t as readily available so that might not be a great choice for your story.

It’s also important to note that from the article, just as in humans, a combination of drugs might be used. So, naloxone might reverse the opiate but not whatever else is in the syringe. Also, animal darts are likely loaded with more medication that would be more likely to produce toxic and dangerous effects to a human than say a bear.

I hope this answers your question and good luck with your novel!

Should the Blacklist be Blacklisted?

This week I’m analyzing some of the new Fall TV shows– medically speaking.

I’ve always been a fan of James Spader. No one does evil genius as good as he does.

The Blacklist is set up similarly to Hannibal (the first Anthony Hopkins movie) in the sense that he is a criminal mastermind and for some reason, as yet undiscovered, is only willing to talk with an FBI ingenue about criminal plots that he is aware of.

In one of the early episodes, the two attend a fund-raising event for a human rights advocate who is being targeted for murder. It just so happens that she’s really trafficking humans and thus perhaps is justly murdered to prevent her from continuing this criminal enterprise. Of course, the young FBI agent is a big fan of this woman and has written papers about her humanitarian efforts.

When the trafficker’s secret is exposed, James Spader’s characters says:

“She’s been given a lethal cocktail of the same barbiturates she used to drug her children. I have the antitode.”

Then the FBI agent proceeds to do the pen to the trachea maneuver to help her breathe.

And my eye-rolling begins.

First of all– what are the barbiturates? These would be drugs like amytal sodium (AKA a supposed truth serum drug), phenobarbital and Seconal. Oh, by the way, there is not an “antidote” for this type of overdose. There are only two antidotes for overdoses and they are Narcan for opiates and Flumazenil for Benzodiazepines (like Valium).

The purpose of an emergency tracheotomy (the pen to the throat for breathing) is to bypass an upper airway obstruction. The effects of an OD of barbiturates is a decrease in breathing or breathing cessation but the airway is not obstructed. To “save” this patient– all our trusty FBI agent needed to do was give her mouth to mouth and all that extra blood could have been avoided.

You can read more about Barbiturate OD here