Also known as "tranq dope" or "zombie heroin," tranq is made up of xylazine, an animal tranquilizer, that is mixed in with other drugs, notably fentanyl. Tranq is known to depress breathing, lengthen overdoses and cause skin ulcers and sores that can last for months. This last symptom is what makes people addicted to tranq get referred to as "zombies." (Related: Skin-rotting animal tranquilizer drug known as "tranq" spreads all over US.)
Joseph D'Orazio, an emergency medicine physician and an associate professor at the nearby Temple University Lewis Katz School of Medicine, noted that the rotting wounds on tranq users are "a lot deeper, a lot more severe" than the city's physicians have previously seen with other drug users.
"There were big necrotic areas," he said. "They were deep down into tendons. Sometimes, you can see the bones, and we were starting to see more patients that were requiring amputations."
"I've never seen human beings remain in these kinds of conditions," said Sarah Laurel, who runs the outreach organization Savage Sisters. "They have open, gaping wounds. They can't walk, and they tell me, 'If I go to the hospital, I'm going to get sick.' They're so terrified of the detox."
Kensington has become "ground zero" not just for Philadelphia's drug abuse epidemic, but also for the spread of tranq use throughout the nation. Addicts can be seen shooting up tranq and other illegal substances in broad daylight, leaving them mindlessly wandering the streets, hunched over in a stupor and passed out in needle-covered surroundings.
One man who drove through Kensington and was interviewed by the Daily Mail on his experience noted that some streets, like Allegheny and Kensington Avenues, are relatively safe. But on other streets, like Shelbourne, drivers can see the sidewalks filled with trash and addicts covered in blankets, sitting on sidewalks and seeming to be in a drug-induced haze.
Fentanyl laced with xylazine is said to have surfaced in Philadelphia and in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico in the last decade. In Pennsylvania alone, overdose deaths involving xylazine increased from two percent to 26 percent from 2015 to 2020.
In Florida, Attorney General Ashley Moody recently held a press conference warning Floridians about the dangers of xylazine's spread across the state. She warned that the drug has become increasingly prevalent in Sarasota, Manatee and Desoto counties.
"It's cheap, it is easily accessible and drug users often mix it with fentanyl, leaving users in the dark about what they are actually taking," said Moody. She added that Sarasota County has the third-highest growth rate in xylazine-related deaths in Florida from 2021 to 2022.
"More than 230 Floridians died after using tranq, and over 30 of them were in Sarasota," she said. "These drugs have no warning labels; instead, it is buyer beware, and if you are wrong about whatever is on the drugs, the price you could pay will be your life."
Nationwide, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) believes tranq has already surfaced in all the Lower 48 states and Washington, D.C. The agency also reported that about 23 percent of fentanyl powder and seven percent of fentanyl pills seized by DEA agents last year contained xylazine.
"Xylazine is making the deadliest drug threat our country has ever faced, fentanyl, even deadlier," the DEA said in an alert.
Learn more about the spread of dangerous and highly addictive drugs across the United States at Addiction.news.
Watch this clip from a Boston 25 News report warning how tranq is causing everybody to "drop like flies."