New 'zombie' drug worsens the opioid crisis
The opioid epidemic continues to spiral out of control nationally with over 110,000 Americans dying from drug overdoses last year.
Many experts have identified Ohio as “ground zero” since Ohio had the third highest number of overdoses of any state and the third highest overdose death rate. This harrowing epidemic took over 5,000 Ohioans last year, an astounding increase of 27% from the year before.
Almost every family has been touched by this epidemic in some way, evident by the record overflow of Stark County residents who attended our eighth annual Opioid Symposium this year at the Malone University Johnson Center searching for answers.
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Unfortunately, this crisis continues to expand, especially now that xylazine, an animal tranquilizer which goes by the street name “Tranq” has filtered into Ohio. This deadly drug is becoming a common additive to opiates and cocaine.
It can kill in minutes.
The drug is referred to as the “zombie drug” because it slows down breathing and other body functions, giving a person the appearance of being in a trance or “zoned out.” Xylazine appears to prolong a fentanyl high – but at a terrible cost.
Equally troubling is that users may have no idea that xylazine has been cut into the drug they are abusing.
Those who regularly use this “flesh eating” drug can develop severe, deep wounds with patches of dead and rotting skin around the injection site. If these are left untreated, they can lead to the loss of fingers, toes and limbs.
Xylazine is cheap and comes in both powder and liquid form. Because of its low cost, it is mixed with other drugs to increase profits for the traffickers. Unfortunately, xylazine is not an opioid so Narcan cannot be used to reverse the overdose. Furthermore, emergency responders aren’t familiar with this veterinary drug and therefore are likely not trained to respond to it.
At the same time, fentanyl still continues to be readily available and is the leading cause of death for Americans ages 18 to 50. Eighty percent of all overdose deaths last year were caused by fentanyl.
With a potency of 50 times that of heroin, it’s the deadliest drug our nation has ever encountered. Just two milligrams – the equivalent to a few grains of salt – can be fatal.
Its effect on our community has been devastating and fentanyl is now proclaimed “Public Enemy No. 1.” No town is safe from this poison.
It’s scary to even consider that recently in Cleveland, an estimated 88 pounds of suspected fentanyl were seized by an FBI task force, enough to kill 20 million people. Since fentanyl is shipped in from both Mexico and China, it is cheap but provides a more powerful high, which makes it attractive to addicts.
There is no clear answer to solving this crisis.
A spike in heartbreaking stories shared by local families requires all of us to continue to restrict prescribed opiates. It may be necessary to carry Narcan in all our homes, schools and the workplace to reverse the effects of an overdose to keep a loved on alive.
Community education forums can provide valuable guidance and education. Stronger border control would stop the influx of these deadly drugs being shipped into the United States. Strained police departments need to be provided better resources and more funding to expand investigations and to control drug traffickers.
On a positive note, help for anyone is available. Stark County is fortunate to have numerous and effective treatment facilities with beds available 24/7. There’s no excuse for anyone not to seek assistance.
In conclusion, it’s important to remind friends, coworkers and family members that one pill can kill.
Frank Forchione is a Stark County Common Pleas Court judge and chairman of the Stop Heroin From Killing Committee.