Last updated: March 20, 2023
People with raw, oozing wounds or amputated body parts wandering aimlessly through the streets may seem as if it’s a scene from a TV series. However, this nightmarish scene can play out in real-time at any given moment in cities across the nation as the zombie drug, Xylazine, also known as “tranq” or “tranq dope,” continues to make its way across the country. First appearing in Philadelphia, reports of the large animal tranquilizer have now shown up in the drug supply in San Francisco and Los Angeles as well.
Never approved for human use, hospitals rarely test for Xylazine when doing routine toxicology screenings. However, in light of the fact that it’s now been discovered in Washington D.C. and across 36 states, that probably needs to change—pronto. One of the side effects of an addiction to this illegal substance literally eats the user’s flesh from the inside out.
Xylazine was originally used for cutting heroin because its narcotic effect intensified the drug user’s experience. It’s cheap too which makes it an ideal substance for “cutting.” It increases the amount of the product for sale and intensifies the euphoric effect. Theoretically, that should bring repeat business—unless, of course, the customer dies of an overdose—or gets eaten alive—in the meantime.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) lists tranq as a Schedule 1 drug meaning it hasn’t been approved for medical use in the United States. In addition, there is a high potential for abuse. As the body builds up a tolerance to the drug, it takes increasingly higher doses to achieve the desired effect. This puts the user at increased risk of overdose as well.
How is it getting into the United States?
It’s not illegal for veterinarians to purchase Xylazine online. It’s not hard for people only posing as veterinarians to obtain either according to a DEA spokesperson. It’s sold by concentration based on the weight of the animal to which it will be administered. The DEA also states that the drug can easily be bought online from Chinese suppliers at cheap prices.
It comes in liquid or powder form and can be smoked, snorted, or injected. It rapidly affects the central nervous system and when combined with other opioids, fentanyl often being one of them, increases the risk of overdose exponentially.
Signs and symptoms
Symptoms of having taken the zombie drug include:
- Slow breathing
- Decreased heart rate
- Decreased blood pressure
- Ulcerations that do not heal without treatment
If injected, skin ulcerations will eventually form as crusty wounds that rarely appear at the injection site. The ulcers are known to ooze colored pus—which corresponds with the zombie reference. Worse, the wounds don’t heal without treatment; they spread leaving dead skin, called eschar, that becomes necrotic. The end result is the need for amputation to stop the advancement.
Because the symptoms imitate those of opioids—and, as stated above, it’s often intentionally mixed into opioids—medical personnel can easily misdiagnose the cause of overdose. Xylazine doesn’t respond to Narcan, also known as naloxone, which is often used to revive someone who has overdosed on opioids.
Extremely painful but…
Because users become addicted to tranq, they continue using it even when they see what is happening to their bodies. One user, known only as Sam, shared the following statement with Sky News: “Tranq is basically zombifying people’s bodies. Until nine months ago, I never had wounds. Now, there are holes in my legs and feet.”
Other users describe the intense pain the wounds cause from which they can’t find relief until, of course, they use the zombie drug again. Many addicts aren’t seeking any help for their wounds either. In addition to the fear of going into withdrawal, many suspect it’s due to the fact that, as a rule, people who use drugs feel as if they are treated poorly by those in the medical profession.
Thankfully, wound care stations are proving otherwise. They’re springing up in cities, such as Philadelphia, right alongside the stations where addicts know to come for safe smoking or injection kits, condoms, and Narcan.
Little research left doctors at a loss
There is little known about xylazine because it was never intended for human use. Doctors who pioneered treatment, mainly in Philadelphia where the infestation began, are giving presentations and trading tips with other professionals for treating the wounds before amputation becomes a necessity.
Incredibly, it took nearly a decade for the alarm to sound about this flesh-eating horror. Rafael Torruella, a social psychologist first warned about it in a paper written back in 2011 after witnessing the drug’s devastating effect xylazine was having on Puerto Ricans.
Do and die
There’s little doubt that xylazine is going to keep showing up in the illicit drugs that continue to pour into our country like never before. Education regarding the dangers of drug abuse continues to be our best defense. It allows people to make informed decisions. And, it seems that if one realized that using drugs probably meant that you’re going to ingest something that causes a flesh-eating wound—in addition to increasing your risk of having a deadly overdose—deciding to never use drugs would be a no-brainer.
The odds increase every day that if you use illicit drugs, you are going to suffer an overdose. Nearly all drugs sold on the black market have become a drug cocktail—nothing is as it seems. Nearly everything contains the highly toxic synthetic opioid, fentanyl. People are dying every day because they had no idea they were taking a drug containing it. Now, we have xylazine, the zombie drug, being thrown into the deadly mix.
Moreover, the THC levels in marijuana continue to increase. Some strains of the plant have THC levels reaching nearly 30% now! It’s resulting in people—often teens—getting so high that they head for the emergency room. There haven’t been any reported deaths due to THC overdose—yet. However, there are limited studies as to the effects that these increased toxicity levels have on the human body.
Someone really needs to be finding that out.