WASHINGTON — It's formal name is Xylazine – an FDA approved drug for animals only and tranquilizer now showing up in street drugs for its ability to lower a person's heart rate and increase the high from opioids.
"It's most commonly mixed with fentanyl, which can lead to more intense but shorter effects than heroin," said Emily Keller, the new Special Secretary of Opioid Response for Gov. Wes Moore (D-MD).
Keller says Xylazine has made its way into Maryland drugs, often without those using other drugs knowing they are laced with it.
"I think that's the big concern right now. I think a lot of people don't realize what is in the illicit drug supply," said Keller.
Which can be deadly because opioid counter acting drugs like Narcan don't work on Xylazine.
And then there is the side effect that gives the drug its other name - the "Zombie" drug – flesh destroying wounds that develop when the drug is injected.
"They can be very bad and they can go the whole way down to the bone," said Keller. "And, it's not always at the injection site. It can show up anywhere on your body, so, it is pretty scary," she said.
"This is alarming because if you look at someone who has a very serious wound and they're ready to go get treatment, you have to treat their wounds now," Keller said.
The state of Maryland recently started a Xylazine task force that is tracking how widespread the drug's presence is and expected to release a report in the coming weeks. Health officials hope that data will help them come up with a strategy for dealing with this new problem.
Early this week the FDA said it is taking action to restrict unlawful importing of the veterinary drug.