The world of substance misuse never stays the same for a long time. The latest is xylazine, – also known as the “zombie drug.” Xylazine is a non-opioid sedative, analgesic, and muscle relaxant typically used in veterinary medicine, most commonly as a horse tranquilizer. When humans misuse it, xylazine puts users into a deep, lethargic state, causing them to stand still and zone out, hence the ‘zombie’ name. 

In recent months, the DEA issued a public safety warning as xylazine has already appeared in 48 states. It’s critical that we educate others about this drug, the health risks involved, and how people are being exposed to it. Let’s delve into everything you should know about the zombie drug. 

What is Xylazine?

Xylazine, colloquially known as the ‘zombie drug,’ was initially developed as a veterinary tranquilizer, particularly for horses.’ It’s a non-opioid sedative and analgesic. Though it was never intended for human consumption, it has unfortunately found its way into the human drug scene due to its potency and easy accessibility.

The Devastating Health Effects of Xylazine

The appeal of xylazine for some is the strong sedative effect it induces, providing an intense, albeit dangerous, high. Xylazine has a severe impact on human health, leading to symptoms like:

  • Drowsiness
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Difficulty breathing 
  • Death 

The term ‘zombie drug’ comes from the state it often puts users in. Over time, xylazine abuse can cause significant skin and soft tissue damage, causing the flesh to rot in extreme instances. This gruesome phenomenon has earned xylazine its morbid nickname.

Furthermore, xylazine withdrawal isn’t just uncomfortable; it’s painful and potentially dangerous. Symptoms include extreme anxiety, tremors, muscle pain, and severe gastrointestinal issues. The duration and intensity of withdrawal symptoms can vary widely, depending mainly on the length of use and the individual’s overall health.

Long-term Health Effects of Xylazine Use

The long-term effects of xylazine use are severe and could lead to permanent health damage. The drug is a central nervous system depressant, meaning that over time it can adversely affect major body systems and functions.

Here are some of the potential long-term effects:

  • Cardiovascular issues: Xylazine can depress the cardiovascular system, leading to problems like lowered heart rate and blood pressure. Extended use could potentially lead to more severe and chronic cardiovascular conditions.
  • Respiratory Complications: The drug can slow or even stop breathing, particularly when used with opioids. Chronic misuse could lead to long-term respiratory problems, including an increased risk of respiratory diseases and conditions.
  • Skin and Soft Tissue Damage: Xylazine has been linked to serious skin and soft tissue infections, including abscesses and skin ulcers. These can result in severe scarring, infections that can spread to the rest of the body, and in extreme cases, may require amputation.
  • Neurological Effects: While more research is needed, long-term use of xylazine could likely have detrimental effects on the nervous system due to its sedative and depressive properties.
  • Increased Risk of Overdose and Death: The long-term use of xylazine increases the risk of accidental overdose, particularly when combined with other substances like opioids. Overdoses can be fatal.

It’s important to note that these effects can vary widely from person to person, and they can be influenced by several factors, including the dosage of xylazine taken, the frequency of use, the presence of other substances, and the individual’s overall health. 

How Common is Xylazine Use?

While xylazine is primarily meant for veterinary use, people are typically exposed to it when mixed with other substances, most commonly opioids like heroin. This mixture often amplifies the potency of the drug cocktail and makes the effects even more unpredictable.

According to the CDC, xylazine was found in 23% of fentanyl powder and 7% of fentanyl pills seized by the DEA in 2022. In another study from 10 US cities, xylazine was involved in nearly 7% of drug overdose deaths in 2020. Furthermore, some cities have reported that over half of the opioid overdoses also involved xylazine, indicating the substantial spread of this dangerous substance. In cities like Philadelphia, xylazine was found in 31% of heroin/fentanyl overdose deaths in 2019 alone. 

How to Help Someone Overdosing?

If you suspect someone is experiencing a xylazine overdose, acting quickly is crucial. Signs of an overdose can include severe drowsiness, slow or irregular breathing, and unresponsiveness. Immediately call 911 or your local emergency number. While waiting for medical help, try to keep the person awake and upright if possible, and start CPR if the person stops breathing.

Unfortunately, xylazine doesn’t respond to naloxone, the drug commonly used to reverse opioid overdoses. Thus increasing the risk of fatal overdose dramatically. 

Finding Help

If you or someone you love is struggling with xylazine use, it’s crucial to remember that there’s help out there. Addiction is a complex beast but can be beaten with the right support.

The key is understanding that addiction isn’t a sign of weakness or a moral failing. It’s a chronic, relapsing brain disease requiring proper treatment. So if you’re caught in the grips of xylazine, don’t despair. There are countless organizations dedicated to helping you regain control.

Like any substance use disorder, treatment for xylazine addiction requires a holistic approach that treats the whole person, not just the addiction. This can include detoxification, counseling, medication, and peer support groups. 

Don’t let xylazine, or any substance, define you or your loved ones. The journey may be long, and the road may be challenging, but with the right support, you can overcome it.