Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer warned his constituents in New York about a new drug that he says could cause people’s skin to rot.
“We all know what a scourge fentanyl has been across the New York area—New York City, Long Island, all the suburbs—but now we’re seeing a new even worse type of drug being mixed with fentanyl,” Schumer said during a press conference in Manhattan on Sunday.
Schumer warned this new drug, called xylazine, is being mixed in with other addictive street drugs like heroin and “could be a nightmare” for its users.
“It’s a deadly, skin-rotting zombie drug that evil drug dealers are now mixing with fentanyl, with heroin, and with other drugs,” Schumer continued. “And it’s already bringing a horrific wave of death and overdose to upstate New York, and it’s on its way to New York City and Long Island where we’ve already seen it begin to rear its ugly head.”
What Is Xylazine?
Xylazine is a non-opioid pharmaceutical sedative and pain reliever often used in veterinary settings. Xylazine has also been used outside of veterinary medicine as a recreational drug either by itself or as a cutting agent in other drug substances like heroin and fentanyl.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the repeated use of xylazine is also associated with skin ulcers, abscesses, and related complications. These skin conditions can devolve further into necrosis, the death of skin and organ tissue.
Xylazine also poses a unique risk for overdose deaths.
The drug naloxone has become a popular means of reducing the effects of opioid overdoses from heroin and fentanyl. However, naloxone is ineffective against xylazine, which is not an opioid.
“Because xylazine is not an opioid, naloxone does not address the impact of xylazine on breathing,” NIDA said in a fact sheet on the growing use of xylazine. “Because of this, experts are concerned that a growing prevalence of xylazine in the illicit opioid supply may render naloxone less effective for some overdoses.”
Alarm Growing Over Drug
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) warned of the rising prevalence of xylazine in drug mixtures in a new safety advisory last week.
“Xylazine is making the deadliest drug threat our country has ever faced, fentanyl, even deadlier,” said DEA administrator Anne Milgram. “DEA has seized xylazine and fentanyl mixtures in 48 of 50 States. The DEA Laboratory System is reporting that in 2022 approximately 23% of fentanyl powder and 7% of fentanyl pills seized by the DEA contained xylazine.”
According to the DEA, the Sinaloa and Jalisco cartels in Mexico are responsible for the vast majority of the fentanyl that is being trafficked in communities across the United States. The DEA also said these cartels are sourcing much of these chemical compounds from China.
“[Xylazine is] coming into the country through China and often through Mexico,” Schumer said. “And so even these drug dealers have started peddling this drug because it mimics opioids.”
Schumer also raised the prospect of xylazine spilling over from legitimate veterinary pharmaceutical use into the illicit drug trade. The senator called for the DEA to send a diversion control team to determine how the drug may be permeating from legitimate veterinary use to the illegal trade.
Last week, New York City Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget Brennan told the city council that officers uncovered more than 44 pounds of fentanyl cut with xylazine during a police raid against a money laundering suspect in Queens, the New York Post reported.
Xylazine has become particularly prevalent in the illicit drug scene in the northeast portion of the United States. According to NIDA, xylazine was detected in 26 percent of overdose deaths in Pennsylvania in 2020, compared to just 2 percent of overdose deaths across the state in 2015. Xylazine was detected in 19 percent of all drug overdose deaths in Maryland in 2021 and 10 percent of overdose deaths in Connecticut in 2020.