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Zombie drug ‘tranq’ hits streets of West Virginia


CHARLESTON — U.S. Attorney Bill Ihlenfeld says he fears a powerful drug that’s turning fentanyl addicts into “zombies” will lead to more overdose deaths in West Virginia.

Xylazine, known as “tranq” or “zombie drug,” is an animal tranquilizer that is often mixed with fentanyl. The drug leads to skin-rotting symptoms, including leg wounds, swollen hands and even missing limbs.

“Amputation is necessary in some cases in order to stop the spread of whatever is going through these individuals’ bodies,” Ihlenfeld said on Friday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”

Xylazine is now in 90% of Philadelphia’s drug supply. It was detected in New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Ihlenfeld said the deadly drug is now heading to West Virginia.

“A trend in Philadelphia or Baltimore or other East Coast cities, it comes our way. We know that and we traditionally have suppliers from Philadelphia who are sending drugs to north-central West Virginia or to the Eastern Panhandle,” he said.

Adding the tranquilizer, something that is more sedating, makes the drug feel like it lasts longer. Ihlenfeld said the scary part is naloxone, a commonly used opioid reversal drug, can’t save a person’s life if that fentanyl is mixed with xylazine.

“Narcan was used to try to bring the person back. It was unsuccessful. That’s an indication that xylazine was present,” Ihlenfeld said. “Xylazine is not an opioid and so when you use an overdose reversal drug like naloxone, it does not counteract its effects.”

Ihlenfeld said he also fears the drug will put more pressure on the state’s medical systems.

Xylazine was first detected as a problem around 20 years ago in Puerto Rico, but has gradually made its way across the United States.

Xylazine is not listed as a controlled substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration. The drug is monitored by the Food and Drug Administration, which issued a warning in November about the drug impacting the nation’s street supply.