City officials see increase in ‘zombie drug’
Opiates mixed with animal sedatives causing issues
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - Dr. Sydnee McElroy sees more skin wounds on patients when she volunteers at Harmony House in Huntington.
“You get these necrotic skin lesions, meaning these areas of dead tissue. I immediately thought I am already seeing those,” McElroy said. “It has probably been since last summer, but there has been an increase in the last few months.”
She said the wounds are caused by unknowingly taking a deadly drug called xylazine, which is usually used as an animal tranquilizer.
McElroy said drug users do not know they are ingesting the drug and it is typically mixed with heroin or fentanyl.
Narcan will usually reverse opioid overdoses, but it will not work to reverse the effects of xylazine.
McElroy said regardless, Narcan should be used during an overdose.
“Administer naloxone even if xylazine is part of what is causing the overdose. It’s really important that we remove the opiates because that will help them start breathing,” McElroy said.
What makes the drug so dangerous is that even when a person experiencing an overdose begins breathing if Narcan is administered, they will not wake up until the effects of xylazine wear off.
One major concern McElroy has is there is no easy way to test a drug for xylazine.
Jan Rader, director of the Mayor’s Council of Public Health and Drug Control Policy, agrees that finding a way to test for the drug is a solution to combating overdoses.
“We do need the development of a urinary test that can detect it or strips like they have for fentanyl,” Rader said.
She said working with state programs to develop a test is a solution.
The city of Huntington is rolling out a new program to help combat overdoses.
“We will have a mental care provider riding with a police officer,” Rader said. “Our goal is to respond real-time to mental health crises.”
McElroy said if a person overdoses with a drug containing xylazine they must go to the hospital immediately.
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