Zombie Drug? The Threat of Mixing Fentanyl and Xylazine

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A new illicit substance has emerged on the streets that causes terrifying, often life-threatening effects. Known as a “zombie drug,” this new drug is raising a significant number of concerns among health professionals, addiction specialists, and the public due to its unsettling ability to cause the user’s skin to rot off. It’s increasingly being found in the drug supply in opioids like heroin and fentanyl.

Here, we explore what this “zombie drug” is, why it’s so dangerous, and the impact it’s having, particularly in regions like Los Angeles, Orange County, and across the state of California. We’ll also discuss the treatment options available for those struggling with addiction and how to get help. 

What Is a Zombie Drug? 

The term “zombie drug” might sound like something out of a horror movie, but it’s a very real and dangerous reality. It typically refers to a mixture of fentanyl and xylazine. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. Xylazine is a non-opioid sedative used in veterinary medicine that can dangerously lower a person’s heart rate and suppress their breathing pattern. Neither substance is harmless on its own, but together, they create a deadly concoction.

Why Do They Call It Zombie Drugs? 

In general, the nickname “zombie drug” stems from the resulting stupor-like state it induces in users and its ability to cause skin ulcers that look like rotting flesh.  However, beyond the eerie name and frightening effects, the use of fentanyl and xylazine together has become a serious public health concern.

How Are Zombie Drugs Used?

Zombie drugs are often combined and sold as counterfeit pills or mixed in with street drugs such as heroin or meth. Users may not even know they are consuming the combination until it’s too late.

Fentanyl itself is commonly used to cut other drugs because it is cheap and potent, making drug dealers more profitable. Xylazine can also be easily obtained from veterinary clinics or online sources without any regulation or control. 

What Is Tranq ?

Known on the street as “tranq,” Xylazine was originally developed as a sedative for animals such as horses and deer. Starting in 2020, it’s increasingly found its way into illicit drug markets, particularly as an adulterant in opioids.

Common street names for xylazine include:

  • Tranq
  • Tranq dope
  • Philly dope
  • Sleep-cut


Most commonly used in veterinary medicine, xylazine isn’t produced under the same standards as medications intended for people. This means there is a higher chance of contamination or impurities in the drug, which can lead to serious health consequences for those who use it.

Why is Tranq Dangerous? 

One of the most alarming risks associated with tranq abuse is nasty skin sores and infections. People on Tranq can actually experience their flesh rot away while they are still alive. Tranq skin wounds, also known as “xylazine wounds,” can develop rapidly and are often difficult to treat. This is a big reason tranq is also known as “the zombie drug.”

As more drug dealers cut heroin and fentanyl with xylazine, there is an increasing number of people overdosing on zombie drugs. Drugs mixed with tranq are particularly dangerous because xylazine is not an opioid and, therefore, does not respond to opioid overdose reversal drugs like naloxone. This complicates the treatment for overdoses, as the typical life-saving measures may not be effective against zombie drugs containing tranq. 

To make matters worse, standard drug tests don’t screen for xylazine, making it more difficult to detect. This increases the number of people unknowingly consuming zombie drugs due to an inability to accurately test street drugs for tranq. On the other hand, zombie drugs can be more appealing to those who are subject to regular drug testing but still want to get high. 

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The Dangers of  Zombie Drugs in Los Angeles

The zombie drug tranq is on the rise in Orange County. The Los Angeles Sheriff Department has found that xylazine may be in up to 4% of the Orange County fentanyl supply. According to the LA Times, xylazine has been showing up in the drug supply going back at least five years. The Times goes on to report that most of the zombie drug samples were found in a counterfeit blue pill known as an M30.

According to the DEA, xylazine was found in at least 30% of the fentanyl powder in 2023. This is an increase from 25% in 2022.

Opioid Drug Treatment in Orange County 

If you are abusing zombie drugs you need to immediately seek treatment at a Los Angeles treatment center. Addiction treatment centers in Orange County implement a multi-faceted approach that includes medical detoxification, where the physical presence of the drug is safely managed and removed from the body under professional supervision.

Opioid drug treatment includes services such as:


These services help individuals understand the root causes of their addiction and develop coping strategies to prevent relapse. The treatment for addiction to the “zombie drug” requires a tailored approach that addresses both the potent effects of fentanyl and the additional complications introduced by xylazine.

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Looking for quality substance abuse treatment that’s also affordable? South Coast accepts most major insurance providers. Get a free insurance benefits check now.

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Find Help for Xylazine or ‘Tranq’ in California 

If you or a loved one are struggling with zombie drug addiction but wonder how long addiction treatment takes or have other questions, call us at 866-881-1184 or contact us here. Our highly qualified staff will be happy to help give you an idea on what to expect from your addiction recovery timeline, help verify your insurance, and assist with any other questions you may have.

Pierce Willans
Kelly McIntyre
Medically Reviewed by Kelly McIntyre, MS, LMFT
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