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Western Washington Reports First Death Tied to ‘Zombie Drug’ Xylazine

Fatal Incident Connected to Xylazine

A tragic death in Western Washington has been linked to xylazine, a potent animal sedative often referred to as “tranq” or the “zombie drug” due to its harmful effects. Toxicology results showed that the deceased had xylazine, fentanyl, and methamphetamine in their system. The individual, identified as an adult local resident, has not been named publicly.

Community Response and Official Remarks

An official expressed profound sorrow over the first recorded xylazine-related death in Whatcom County, sharing condolences on the county’s website. The toxicology report highlighted the presence of multiple substances, including fentanyl and methamphetamine, alongside xylazine. “No one should lose their life to an overdose, and our thoughts are with the family and friends of this individual,” the statement noted.

Risks Associated with Xylazine

Xylazine, known as tranq, is a powerful animal sedative that poses severe risks to humans. It can significantly impair brain function and drastically reduce breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure. Additionally, xylazine can cause severe skin injuries that are difficult to heal, affecting not only injection sites but also other areas of the body.

A 2022 report by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) revealed that individuals who inject xylazine or xylazine-laced substances often suffer from soft tissue damage, leading to necrotic tissue and a higher risk of amputation compared to other drugs. The report also highlighted the potential for severe physical dependence on xylazine, with withdrawal symptoms that can be worse than those from heroin or methadone.

Prevalence and Dangers of Xylazine Adulteration

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has noted that illicit drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and fentanyl are sometimes mixed with xylazine to enhance their effects or increase their street value by adding weight. Users often remain unaware of xylazine’s presence in these drugs. According to the CDC, xylazine-fentanyl mixtures have been found in 48 states, with the DEA detecting xylazine in about 23% of fentanyl powder and 7% of fentanyl pills seized in 2022.

Handling a Suspected Xylazine Overdose

Since xylazine is not an opioid, naloxone (Narcan or Kloxxado) cannot reverse its effects. However, if an overdose is suspected, naloxone should still be administered to counteract any opioids like fentanyl that might also be present. If the individual has difficulty breathing or irregular breaths, bystanders should provide rescue breaths if it is safe to do so.

Whatcom County officials have been aware of xylazine’s circulation for over a year, issuing their first warning about the drug in March 2023. Since the summer of 2022, the Medical Examiner’s Office has tested all suspected overdose deaths for xylazine, marking this case as the first confirmed xylazine-related fatality in Whatcom County.