Health & Lifestyle

Deaths involving zombie drug ‘tranq’ have rocketed 300% in just three years across the US 

The number of Americans being killed by a flesh-rotting street drug has soared more than 15-fold in the past three years, an official report suggests.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found monthly overdose deaths involving xylazine rose from 12 in January 2019 to 188 in June 2022.

But officials only looked at 20 states plus D.C., meaning the true number involving the powerful animal tranquilizer is bound to be higher.

Xylazine is flooding the US illicit drug market as a cutting agent used to make drugs seem more potent than they are. It is increasingly being mixed with fentanyl to create an even deadlier drug cocktail that rots users’ skin from the inside and leaves them in a zombie-like state. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( CDC ) found monthly overdose deaths involving xylazine rose from 12 in January 2019 to 188 in June 2022. The report also found monthly fentanyl overdoses involving xylazine rose by 276 percent in just over three years

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( CDC ) found monthly overdose deaths involving xylazine rose from 12 in January 2019 to 188 in June 2022. The report also found monthly fentanyl overdoses involving xylazine rose by 276 percent in just over three years

The drug is currently sweeping across the country and is readily available online for as little as $6, according to Drug Enforcement Administration officials

The drug is currently sweeping across the country and is readily available online for as little as $6, according to Drug Enforcement Administration officials

Kensington's streets are littered with syringes, garbage and homeless encampments, with addicts dealing and using drugs in broad daylight

Kensington’s streets are littered with syringes, garbage and homeless encampments, with addicts dealing and using drugs in broad daylight

The report also found monthly fentanyl overdoses involving xylazine rose by 276 percent in just over three years. 

The CDC report comes on the back of a growing number of Drug Enforcement Administration seizures at the southern border, through which much of the country’s supply of fentanyl and xylazine is flowing.

The top federal public health agency relied on data from the State Unintentional Drug Overdose Reporting System (SUDORS) – a CDC-run database containing data from death certificates, medical examiner or coroner reports, and postmortem toxicology results uploaded from 47 states and DC.

However, the majority of the length of the study considered just 21 jurisdictions, suggesting that the true number of deaths involving xylazine is a significant undercount.

According to the DEA, in 2020, there were 808 drug overdoses reported in which xylazine played a role. That figure skyrocketed to 3,089 in 2021.

The authors of the study said: ‘The timing and magnitude of increase in detection of xylazine among IMF [illicitly-manufactured fentanyl]-involved deaths might reflect both increased frequency of testing and true increased presence in the drug supply in recent years; however, because of inconsistent testing, detection is still likely underestimated.’

When considering 20 states and the District of Columbia, CDC researchers found that the proportion of monthly fatal fentanyl overdoses involving xylazine increased by 276 percent from January 2019 to June 2022 (from 2.9 percent to 10.9 percent).

The monthly number of deaths co-involving fentanyl and xylazine increased from 12 in January 2019 to 188 in June 2022.

During the latter 18 months of the study, from January 2021 to June 2022, the researchers expanded their scope to incorporate data from 31 states and DC. During this particular period, xylazine was detected in nine percent of overdoses involving fentanyl.

States in the Northeast had the highest rates of fentanyl overdoses in which tranq was detected post-mortem at nearly 50 percent.

Meanwhile, the states with the highest number of fentanyl deaths involving xylazine from January 2021 to June 2022 included Maryland, with 923 deaths, Connecticut with 507, and Pennsylvania with 1,285.

Xylazine prolongs the highs felt from heroin and other street drugs, but results in users passing out for hours at a time, while injection points ulcerate and lead to grisly wounds that spread across the body, Pictured: Homeless people on the streets of Kensington, Philadelphia

The drug prolongs the highs felt from heroin, but results in users passing out for hours at a time, while injection points ulcerate and lead to grisly wounds that spread across the body, Pictured: Homeless people on the streets of Kensington, Philadelphia

Los Angeles county is attempting to do something to alleviate the problem by tracking the drugs presence throughout the city

Los Angeles county is attempting to do something to alleviate the problem by tracking the drugs presence throughout the city 

Xylazine is not used in humans but rather was developed in the 1960s to be used by veterinarians.

The drug works by stimulating animals’ muscles to relax, and also as an analgesic — relieving pain. It does this by prompting less norepinephrine and dopamine to be released into the central nervous system.

The drug is not an opioid but is often mixed with opioids — such as fentanyl — when it is used to augment it. It is often cut with fentanyl and other drugs and reduces the number of times an addict needs to get a shot.

Because of this, people who take it are more difficult to treat with the overdose-reversing drug naloxone.

Patients who have overdosed are still given naloxone because this will treat other drugs they may also have taken such as heroin or fentanyl.

But the naloxone itself will not be able to address the impact of xylazine on effects such as breathing problems and blood pressure.

Because healthcare providers and good samaritans might not recognize the effects of xylazine, or may not be able to distinguish the symptoms of misuse of that drug from a drug like fentanyl, recovery activists are worried that despite the wider accessibility of life-saving naloxone, they won’t be able to help the growing number of people falling victim to xylazine.

In many cases, the sedative leaves users ‘knocked out’ on street corners and at bus stops for hours. When these people come to, they discover the high from heroin has subsided and start looking for their next hit.

The drug also produces deep lesions in the skin even in spots on the body far from injection sites. The drug causes blood vessels to constrict, which cuts off the flow of oxygenated blood through the body, leading to infections in soft tissue.

If those gaping sores go untreated, they can result in a devastating infection that can require amputation.

Other effects from the drug include blurred vision, disorientation, drowsiness and staggering. It can also lead to a coma, problems breathing and high blood pressure.

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