A new drug in the United States has disturbing — and sometimes deadly — consequences. Xylazine — also known as “Tranq,” “Tranq Dope,” and “the zombie drug” — is wreaking havoc in cities across the country with its devastating effects: It can literally eat away at the skin of its users. The substance first appeared in Philadelphia and then migrated west to San Francisco and Los Angeles where it was used to reduce heroin, but has more recently been found in fentanyl and other illicit drugs, according to the New York Post.
Although xylazine is a non-opioid drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration for veterinary use, it is not safe for humans and people who have overdosed on the drug do not respond to naloxone or Nacon , which is the most common reversal therapy overdose. Xylazine can cause sedative-like symptoms, such as excessive lethargy and respiratory depression, and open sores that can become severe and spread rapidly with repeated exposure. Scabbed sores can turn into dead skin called a scab, which can lead to amputation if left untreated.
Because it’s not listed as a controlled substance in animals or humans, “Tranq” sits in a confusing and scary gray area—hospitals rarely test for it through routine toxicology screening. Last month, a Philadelphia user suddenly developed xylazine-specific ulcers near her opioid injection site.
“I woke up in the morning crying because my arm was dying,” Tracey McCann, 39, told The New York Times. The city reported that 90 percent of drug samples tested in the lab in 2021 contained xylazine, which can increase the risk of overdose when combined with other illicit substances.
But it’s this deadly combination of substances that makes xylazine so attractive — the effects of opioids like fentanyl extended with the help of “Tranq.”
“It’s too late for Philadelphia,” Shawn Westfahl, a social worker at Prevention Point Philadelphia, told the New York Times.
“Philadelphia is saturated. If the rest of the country has the option to avoid this, they need to hear our story.”