White House unveils plan to fight increasing number of ‘zombie drug’ deaths

WASHINGTON – The Biden administration unveiled a plan on Tuesday to fight the growing threat of fentanyl laced with xylazine, an illegal street drug cocktail that has resulted in a surge of overdose deaths. The six-point plan aims to scale up testing, treatment, and seizures of illegal shipments of xylazine, also known as tranq or the “zombie drug,” because it can rot users’ skin, along with causing breathing and heart rates to fall to dangerous levels.

This plan marks the administration’s first concrete action to address the dangerous combination of drugs since the White House identified it as an “emerging threat” in April. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports a 276% increase in the number of fentanyl overdose deaths with xylazine detected between January 2019 and June 2022, a rise from 2.9% to 10.9%. However, officials say that the number is likely higher because of inconsistent testing. 

“The United States today faces the most dangerous illicit drug supply in the history of the country. The deadly drug fentanyl is sold on its own and in combination with street drugs trafficked as heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine, and it is contained in fraudulent prescription medications sold as opioid painkillers, sedatives, and stimulants. To make matters worse, the country now faces a severe challenge from xylazine, especially when combined with fentanyl. There is an urgent need to determine the source of xylazine and how to reduce the illicit supply,” a press release from the White House reads.

To fight this increasing threat, the White House is stressing the importance of testing for xylazine in different places. They want to create rapid test strips for use in clinics and make sure testing is done at every stage of the drug supply chain, from large seizures to local communities. They also want to standardize testing procedures across medical examiners, coroners, public health labs, and drug analysis labs.

A major part of the plan is finding out where xylazine comes from and whether it’s being diverted from legal sources or made illegally. The Biden administration wants to improve its ability to regulate the supply chain for xylazine while still making sure it’s available for legitimate use in animals and research. They might even consider regulating it as a controlled substance under the law.

They’re also looking into ways to go after the people involved in making, importing, exporting, selling, or distributing xylazine to support fentanyl trafficking. The plan also emphasizes the need to do more research on fentanyl laced with xylazine and create a system to track how the drug combination is spreading and its effects.

The White House hopes the strategy will reduce xylazine-related overdose deaths by 15% by 2025. The plan does not include new federal funding, which federal officials say depends on Congress.