Zombie skin-rotting ‘tranq’ drug takes over streets of America as expert warns there's no medication to reverse overdose | The Sun
23rd February 2023

A SKIN-ROTTING drug commonly known as "Tranq" or "Tranq dope" has hit the streets of Philadelphia and is making its way to California.

Public health officials are disturbed by its spread and by the horrific wounds it causes on the bodies of users.

Tranq is the common term for xylazine, an animal tranquilizer drug that is now most commonly cut with heroin or fentanyl.

Xylazine is approved by the Food and Drug Administration as an animal tranquilizer used by vets but is not safe for humans.

Tranq users have found raw wounds erupting on their skin at the injection sites which have rotted the surrounding skin and caused infection, sometimes leading to amputation.

The wounds turn into a crust of dead tissue called eschar which if untreated will see people lose limbs.

Some former addicts have even spoken about seeing people continue to inject the drug into their stumps.

Xylazine killed a record of nearly 107,000 people in the U.S. in 2021. 

The U.S Sun spoke to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health about the additional danger of this drug in relation to Narcan.

Narcan or Naloxone is the most commonly used life-saving drug to reverse the effect of an overdose.

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The NIDA said: "There are no existing medications for reversing a xylazine overdose."

Philadelphia mayoral candidate David Oh told The U.S. Sun: "We have a bad epidemic in Philadelphia."

The Republican candidate added that the city, especially Kensington has became a "destination" for drug addicts and dealers.

Oh believes the fact that there is no medication to treat a Tranq overdose will not dissuade addicts or dealers.

Death is a big seller, it's a money maker."

In fact, he said that when addicts hear that someone died, they will seek out that drug.

The attorney and politician said: "Deadly drugs sell the best… when addicts get high they are in heaven, and when they're not high, they're very unhappy.

"Then they finally inject again and its Shangri-La – it's heaven.

"They awake to a miserable life and a miserable world…so Narcan and saving a life is not what they are looking for – to die in heaven will make them happy."

He added: "They're living for the high….if they hear about a person who died, that's it, they're going for it.

"Death is a big seller, it's a money maker."

The NIDA said: "Repeated use of xylazine can also cause painful skin ulcers and abscesses, potentially as a result of reduced skin oxygenation and vasoconstriction of blood vessels.

"Xylazine is one component of the severe current overdose epidemic, and we must work to make treatment for substance use disorders cheaper and easier to obtain than illicit drugs."

Fentanyl has become the leading cause of deaths for adults aged between 18 and 45, the CDC confirmed.

Former White House drug policy advisor Professor Keith Humphreys told The U.S. Sun: "The US has an established population of several million people who are already addicted to opioids. 

"This creates a lucrative market for drug traffickers selling blends of opioids with other drugs included."

Xylazine is thought to be 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more powerful than morphine, which is why it has taken over at the number one drug in Philadelphia.

Oh discussed the "murderous competition" on the streets of Philadelphia as a place where rival drug dealers own different street corners and hold "shootouts."

The new drug is seeing "dealers murder each other because business is so good and there is good money to be made," he said.

According to the CDC in 2021, one person dies every five minutes from a drug overdose in the US.

Unscrupulous dealers will often cut tranq with fentanyl or heroin to make it more profitable.

What is Xylazine?

Xylazine is an animal tranquiliser used for cows and horses by vets which has now been used to cut opioids like heroin or fentanyl.

The drug is not safe for human consumption and is only legal for veterinary use.

People are known to inject, snort, swallow, or inhale the drug.

Xylazine slows breathing and heart rate, causes drowsiness and impaired coordination, and can cause blue or greyish skin with erupting ulcers and wounds.

The full scope of xylazine deaths across the US is unknown, but research shows that such deaths have spread towards the West of the country and have most severely impacted the Northeast.

Professor Humphreys added: "People often use opioids and tranquilizers together because they believe it will extend their high or reduce their withdrawal symptoms.

"Unfortunately, as a combination, these drugs carry a higher risk of fatal overdose than either drug individually."

While this reduction of withdrawal symptoms may be usual for other drugs, tranq worsens withdrawal symptoms making it more likely for people to continue their addiction.

When cut with fentanyl, xylazine has a bigger hit with it inducing a semi-conscious state which leaves people's upper bodies hanging over their legs in the street and they move very slowly or not at all.

This is where it gets its name "zombie drug" from, however with a bigger hit comes a bigger need for addicts to buy it.

The drug is sold on the street for just a few dollars and is often injected into the body.

According to Oh, dealers will hold "free sample days to attract business" and added that the lack of law enforcement in Kensington "has caused a huge problem."

Oh criticised the current Philadelphia Mayor, Jim Kenney and his team for "abandoning a community" by gradually reducing the policing in Kensington.

During conversations with both high and low ranking police, they told Oh that when they go to Kensington to support the community "they are told not to arrest drug dealers or talk to addicts."

He added: "Nowadays police do not talk to addicts about getting off drugs, about getting in touch with mom and dad, about going home, about a better future.

"They've been told not to interact."

"They awake to a miserable life… so to die in heaven will make them happy."

One police officer told him that the drug dealers know the police can't arrest them.

Liberal author Shane Claybourne voiced his concerns about Kensington with the mayor hopeful, despite the pair not seeing eye-to-eye.

Oh said: "He was very concerned because the drug gang on one corner was warning of a shootout on certain days and they would.

"They tell people and it seems courteous but they also tell people 'if you tell the police we will walk up behind you and shoot you in the back of the head.'

"People are trapped in that environment."

He also spoke about how different options to drug addicts are not a product of "common sense."

"There are many bureaucratic regulations which don't make sense, common sense," he said.

For example, addicts who seek help to start a journey of sobriety have to be clean for three days.

He added: "They also need identification. Many of them don't have ID…they don't have a fresh pair of underwear let alone a drivers license.

"To trod someone down who is coming to a Government office for help is to me a failure of intelligence."

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