This “Zombie Drug” Is Spreading Very Quickly


( – According to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) website, 107,375 people died of drug overdoses in 2022 — and 67% involved synthetic opioids, like fentanyl. While some percentage of opioid deaths has always involved mixtures with other drugs, a frightening new trend has taken hold. Dealers are reportedly adding an unregulated veterinary sedative — generically named Xylazine, a horse tranquilizer, also called tranq or the zombie drug on the street — to drugs like heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, and meth. It has inundated Philadelphia, and it’s spreading quickly to other large US cities like New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

It’s not just that tranq makes drugs like fentanyl more deadly when combined because it boosts the narcotic effect and lengthens the duration of the high, but repeated use causes necrotic skin lesions both at injection sites and in extremities in general. The painful wounds turn black and crusty, smell like rotting meat, and, left untreated, might even result in amputations.

Unlike opioids or synthetic opioids (like fentanyl), Narcan can’t treat tranq overdoses. Tranq is chemically more similar to clonidine — a drug used to treat hypertension, ADHD, and anxiety — yet overdose symptoms look very similar to those of opioids. First responders could administer multiple doses of Narcan while attempting to rescue someone who has taken both tranq and fentanyl, causing immediate withdrawal symptoms without successfully clearing the user’s system of tranq.

More than 90% of Philadelphia’s drug samples tested positive for Xylazine. A study published in October 2022 found Xylazine in drug supplies in 36 states and Washington, DC. Additionally, New York City found tranq in 25% of the drug samples it tested. The FDA issued an alert to clinicians in November 2022. The state of Florida has listed Xylazine as a controlled substance — the only state so far to do so.

Shawn Westfahl, an outreach worker in the hard-hit Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, issued a warning to other cities in his interview with the New York Times, saying, “It’s too late for Philly.” He said tranq had saturated Philadelphia, but he hoped other cities could learn from them. Tools that might help include education, outreach, drug testing, and states adding Xylazine to control schedules on their own.

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