Xylazine is an animal sedative commonly used for livestock like horses and cows. The drug is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in animals. It is not safe for humans, and physicians have warned that people who overdose on xylazine do not respond to naloxone, or Narcan, a common treatment for reversing overdose cases. (Related: Philadelphia's Kensington neighborhood in CRISIS due to widespread abuse of animal tranquilizer xylazine.)
The drug is commonly known by its nickname "tranq" and often mixed with fentanyl or other illicit drugs like heroin.
"People will often use opioids and tranquilizers together because they believe it will extend their high or reduce their withdrawal symptoms," noted former White House drug policy advisor Keith Humphreys. "Unfortunately, as a combination, these drugs carry a higher risk of fatal overdose than either drug individually."
According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, xylazine-positive overdose deaths have risen drastically in every region of the U.S. from 2020 to 2021, killing nearly 107,000 people over that period.
The substance was first spotted in Philadelphia before it began spreading to New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Illicit xylazine use has already been reported in at least 36 states. In New York City, the drug was found in 25 percent of samples taken from illicit drug users.
Regular tranq users are discovering raw wounds erupting on their skin at the injection sites, which have rotted the surrounding skin and caused massive infections. Frank Rodriguez, a former drug addict-turned-business owner in Philadelphia, noted in an interview that this is a result of the drug literally eating users' flesh.
"It's finding the easiest way out, the path of least resistance, and that is coming straight out through the flesh and eating their skin," he said in an interview with Fox News. He added that bags of tranq can be sold to drug addicts for as little as $4 in Philadelphia, and many people are often getting it for free.
Rodriguez noted that the result of mass distribution of tranq often brings to mind the image of zombies from movies and TV shows.
"When you're in a group of three or four people, you can smell rotting flesh, and you know that at least one of them is suffering from these open sores," he said. "It almost looks like 'The Walking Dead,' zombies."
The wounds turn into a crust of dead tissue called eschar. If these spots of dying flesh are not immediately addressed, it could lead to people losing their limbs.
"Tranq is basically zombifying people's bodies," said Sam, 28, a former tranq user. "Until nine months ago, I never had wounds. Now, there are holes in my legs and feet."
Learn more about America's drug epidemic at Addiction.news.
Watch this clip from "Against the Grain" as host Frank Rodriguez interviews a homeless man in Kensington, Philadelphia about his tranq use and how it has affected his health.