Zombie Drug: The Opioid Crisis and the Looming Public Health Threat of Xylazine

Zombie Drug - A fentanyl drug testing kit warns about the dangers of the animal sedative xylazine, which has been found in many fentanyl combination drugs. Kris Craig/The Providence Journal
A fentanyl drug testing kit warns about the dangers of the animal sedative xylazine, which has been found in many fentanyl combination drugs. Kris Craig/The Providence Journal

Introduction

The opioid crisis continues to wreak havoc on communities across the United States, with devastating consequences for individuals and families. In the infamous Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, a hotbed of the opioid crisis, an insidious drug called xylazine, also known as “shrank,” has emerged as a cheap and powerful horse tranquilizer. Though approved by the FDA for veterinary use only, some unscrupulous dealers are mixing it with common street drugs like heroin, cocaine, and fentanyl to boost their profits. This dangerous concoction, dubbed the “zombie drug,” is causing alarming health and social issues, leaving law enforcement, healthcare professionals, and families struggling to cope.

“Zombie Drug” The Spread of Xylazine

Xylazine’s reach is not limited to Philadelphia; it is quickly spreading across the country. Reports of the “zombie drug” have surfaced in California, Alabama, and various other states, with at least 48 states reporting its presence. The drug’s potency is so severe that overdose deaths involving xylazine were 35 times higher in 2021 than in 2018. The White House has sounded the alarm, declaring the mixture of xylazine with illicit fentanyl an emerging threat to the entire nation.

Effects and Challenges

Xylazine poses unique challenges to both users and healthcare providers. Users of the drug can appear “zombie-like,” entering a trance-like state with gruesome skin wounds. The drug’s effects can be so intense that detoxing from xylazine is exceptionally grueling, leading some individuals to remain trapped in a cycle of addiction and painful withdrawals.

For healthcare professionals and harm reduction organizations like “Savage Sisters” in Philadelphia, responding to overdoses involving xylazine is becoming increasingly challenging. Traditional methods of administering Narcan, a medication to reverse opioid overdoses, may not be as effective against this drug. The wounds caused by xylazine use can also make it difficult for individuals to access proper medical care or drug treatment centers.

Research and Testing Efforts

In response to the escalating crisis, researchers and harm reduction programs are working diligently to understand the impact of xylazine and other dangerous street drugs. Organizations like “Savage Sisters” and “Echem for Change” are at the forefront of efforts to test street drugs for xylazine and provide support services to users. The Street Drug Analysis Lab at UNC Chapel Hill is actively processing samples from harm reduction programs nationwide, keeping states and communities informed about the prevalence of xylazine on the streets.

Call for New Solutions

The opioid crisis, exacerbated by the emergence of xylazine, is claiming more than a hundred thousand lives annually. It is evident that existing strategies are insufficient to combat this mounting public health threat. Experts and healthcare professionals stress the need for innovative solutions and a comprehensive approach to address addiction, provide effective detox methods, and ensure access to proper medical care for individuals with wounds related to drug use.

Conclusion

The rise of the “zombie drug” xylazine is a grave concern for communities nationwide. The opioid crisis has entered a new and dangerous phase, with xylazine contributing to the escalating death toll. As society grapples with this unprecedented challenge, it is crucial to prioritize research, harm reduction, and accessible addiction treatment to save lives and prevent further devastation. The battle against the opioid crisis and the “zombie drug” demands a unified effort from individuals, communities, healthcare professionals, and policymakers alike. Only through a collective commitment to new solutions can we hope to reverse this tragic trend and spare families the pain of empty seats at Thanksgiving and loved ones lost to addiction.


Disclaimer: This article is a comprehensive exploration of the opioid crisis and the rise of xylazine as the “zombie drug” based on available knowledge up to September 2021. Readers are encouraged to seek up-to-date information from reliable sources for the most current developments regarding this public health issue.

FAQs

Q1: What is xylazine, and how is it connected to the opioid crisis?

A1: Xylazine is a potent horse tranquilizer approved by the FDA for veterinary use only. However, some dealers have been mixing it with common street drugs like heroin, cocaine, and fentanyl to increase profits. This dangerous mixture, known as the “zombie drug,” is contributing to the opioid crisis as it causes severe health and social issues.

Q2: Where is the “zombie drug” xylazine spreading?

A2: Xylazine has been detected in at least 48 states across the United States. It is no longer limited to Philadelphia but has spread to various regions, including California, Alabama, and rural areas like Greenville, North Carolina.

Q3: What are the effects of xylazine on users?

A3: Xylazine can make users appear “zombie-like,” putting them in a trance-like state with disturbing skin wounds. It extends the euphoria of the drug mixture, making it even more dangerous for individuals consuming it unknowingly.

Q4: How is the healthcare system coping with the rise of xylazine use?

A4: Healthcare professionals are facing significant challenges in responding to xylazine-related overdoses. Traditional methods, such as administering Narcan, may not be as effective. Additionally, the wounds caused by xylazine use can create obstacles for individuals seeking medical care or access to drug treatment centers.

Q5: What efforts are being made to understand and combat xylazine’s impact?

A5: Researchers and harm reduction programs are actively working to analyze street drugs for xylazine. Organizations like “Savage Sisters” and “Echem for Change” are testing drugs and providing support services to users. The Street Drug Analysis Lab at UNC Chapel Hill is processing samples from harm reduction programs across the country.

Q6: How can the opioid crisis be addressed effectively?

A6: Addressing the opioid crisis, including the rise of xylazine, requires a comprehensive approach. This includes innovative solutions, accessible addiction treatment, effective detox methods, and support for harm reduction programs. A unified effort from individuals, communities, healthcare professionals, and policymakers is crucial to combat this public health threat.

Q7: What is the current death toll due to the opioid crisis and xylazine use?

A7: The opioid crisis, combined with the emergence of xylazine, is claiming more than a hundred thousand lives annually. The rising number of overdose deaths is a distressing reminder of the urgency to address this devastating crisis.

Q8: How can readers stay informed about developments in the opioid crisis and xylazine use?

A8: Readers are encouraged to seek up-to-date information from reliable sources such as government health agencies, research institutions, and reputable news outlets. Staying informed is crucial in understanding the evolving nature of the opioid crisis and the efforts being made to combat it.

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