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Pittsburgh doctors see uptick in people with serious side effects from "zombie drug"

Pittsburgh doctors see increase in people with side effects from xylazine
Pittsburgh doctors see increase in people with side effects from xylazine 02:23

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Doctors in Pittsburgh say they're seeing a serious uptick in people dealing with the serious side effects of xylazine. 

Xylazine, known on the street as "tranq," is a horse tranquilizer that drug dealers mix with illicit drugs to increase the high from opioids.

"We've had a major uptick in the amount of patients," Allegheny Health Network Dr. Brent Rau said. 

Rau keeps seeing people walking into Allegheny General Hospital dealing with the so-called "zombie drug" skin issues. 

"Necrosis of the skin down to the bone, they come in with just big festering wounds," Dr. Rau said.

The Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office said 96 people have overdosed with xylazine in their systems since January 2023.

Pictures obtained by KDKA-TV show the the skin ulcers that often appear near injection sites, but Dr. Rau said the photos are tame to what he's seeing in Pittsburgh.

"They're going to need a great deal of wound care, debridement in the OR where they cut away the tissue. And in severe cases, amputation of the limb itself," the doctor said.

Dr. Rau said, in many cases, people think they're using heroin or cocaine, but they are using drugs laced with the tranquilizer. 

The fact it's not an opioid means there's not a reversal drug. Narcan does not work with xylazine, but Rau said they'll often put the patient on oxygen or use a breathing tube. 

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