The next evolution of the drug crisis in the country is filtering into West Virginia. It is called “tranq” or “tranq dope” or “zombie drug” and its primary ingredient is xylazine, an animal tranquilizer.
Drug dealers are mixing xylazine with fentanyl, heroin and cocaine, and the effects are devastating. Users are rendered unconscious or in a “zombie-like” state. In addition, the drug causes a flesh-eating effect that produces large open sores.
“Xylazine causes wounds that erupt with a scaly dead tissue called eschar; untreated they can lead to amputation,” reported the New York Times last month. “ It induces a blackout stupor for hours, rendering users vulnerable to rape and robbery. When people come to, the high has long since faded and they immediately crave more.”
The images online of the wounds caused by the drug are gruesome. I’m linking to some of them here, but I’m warning you they are very graphic.
Tranq has already taken over the drug trade in major eastern U.S. cities, particularly Philadelphia. Bill Ihlenfeld, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia, said it has arrived here.
“A trend in Philadelphia or Baltimore or other east coast cities, it comes our way,” Ihlenfeld said on MetroNews Talkline last Friday. “We know that and we traditionally have suppliers from Philadelphia who are sending drugs to North Central West Virginia or to the Eastern Panhandle.”
Fentanyl is the primary driver behind drug overdose deaths in West Virginia, but xylazine could make the situation even worse, according to The National Institutes of Health.
“Xylazine… has been linking to an increasing number of overdose deaths nationwide in the evolving drug addiction and overdose crisis,” NIH reported. “Studies show people exposed to xylazine often knowingly or unknowingly used it in combination with other drugs, particularly fentanyl.”
NARCAN is often a lifesaver for individuals who overdose on fentanyl or other opioids. The nasal spray reverses the effects of an opioid overdose in minutes. However, NARCAN won’t work on xylazine because it is a sedative, not an opioid.
So now what?
Shawn Westfahl, an outreach worker with Prevention Point Philadelphia heath services center in Kensington, the neighborhood at the heart of the city’s drug trade, told the Times, “It’s too late for Philly. Philly’s supply is saturated. If other places around the country have a choice to avoid it, they need to hear our story.”
Figures from the National Center for Health Statistics show West Virginia had 1,391 drug overdose deaths for the 12-month period that ended last September. That is the highest per capita rate in the country.
That is a horrible statistic, and one that does not consider the crippling effects on individuals and their families who live with addiction. We thought that Fentanyl, which is 50 times more potent than heroin and the leading cause of overdoses, was as bad as it could get.
Now with tranq, we are reminded that in the drug trade, it can always get worse.