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Schumer Warns of “Skin-Rotting Zombie Drug” in the Finger Lakes


Standing with local law enforcement and health leaders in Wayne County Monday, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer revealed his three-pronged plan to combat the rise in Xylazine, a deadly, skin-rotting zombie drug, also known as ‘Tranq,’ that is fueling a new wave of overdoses and deaths heading towards Rochester and spreading across the Finger Lakes. Schumer explained that Upstate communities cannot fight the scourge of this dangerous drug on the streets alone and is calling for a major boost in federal support to combat drug trafficking and this public health crisis.

First, Schumer said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) needs to accelerate its operations to track down illicit sources of Xylazine that are plaguing Northeast, and Upstate New York in particular, to cut off the supply that is flooding New York streets. Second, the senator detailed his new push to supercharge the federal COPS Hiring Program with nearly $537 million in new funds to help stop drug trafficking in its tracks. Third, Schumer said we need an all of the above approach to treating the overdose crisis, and said he is calling for new boosts to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) appropriations, including grants that can be used to fund testing infrastructure for Xylazine.

“In far too many communities, including the Finger Lakes, the pandemic has made opioid addiction and its health impacts worse…”

Schumer explained that although Xylazine is a sedative most commonly used as an animal tranquilizer by veterinarians, the deadly drug is now finding its way onto Upstate streets through illicit sources. He said that these dangerous drug deals are contaminating opioids like fentanyl, heroin, and cocaine with Xylazine, which has the ability to compound the effects of opioids and has led to countless overdoses and deaths in Upstate NY. This dangerous drug is right on the doorstep of the Finger Lakes and has already been identified in several local communities. Xylazine has been a contributing factor in fatal overdoses across Monroe County for years, with over 180 deaths tied to the lethal drug since 2019. Out of 22 deaths that were directly attributed to drug overdoses in nearby Wayne County last year, 3 deaths were directly tied to the usage of Xylazine in conjunction with other opiates and Xylazine is suspected in up to 10 fatal overdoses now under investigation in Wayne County.  This deadly drug is already at large in Central NY and responsible for over 40 overdoses this month alone.

The recent uptick in Xylazine-related overdoses marks a dangerous new chapter in Wayne and Monroe, two counties that have already been hit hard by the epidemic of opioids, such as morphine, and synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl. During a major spike in drug overdoses in 2021, the Finger Lakes saw 209 deaths from opioid overdoses, 920 outpatient emergency department visits, and 6,362 admissions to OASAS-certified substance abuse disorder treatment programs. 41 of those deaths were tied to Monroe County, which also saw over 470 opioid-related overdoses in 2021. Next to Monroe County, Wayne County had the highest amount of deaths caused by opioid overdoses in the region in 2021. In 2022 Wayne County had 367 opioid overdoses (fatal and non-fatal).

“Upstate New York is seeing a dramatic rise in Xylazine, a horrific skin rotting zombie drug, plaguing our streets, overwhelming law enforcement and causing serious concern because it is Narcan resistant, putting lives at greater risk. The feds need to accelerate their efforts to crack down on this drug illegally being shipped from overseas and unlawfully making its way onto the streets of Rochester, Wayne County, and communities across New York,” said Senator Schumer. “In far too many communities, including the Finger Lakes, the pandemic has made opioid addiction and its health impacts worse, and Xylazine could make this growing problem even more deadly which is why we need the feds to step up now. We need an all-of-the-above approach: cutting off the flow of drugs, aid to our law enforcement, more interdiction, prevention, treatment and recovery for those suffering with addiction.”

James Haitz, Director of Wayne County’s Department of Mental Health & Wayne Behavioral Health Network said, “Wayne County Behavioral Health Network serves over 4,000 individuals each year, including at our federally-funded Community Behavioral Health Clinic (CCBHC), to provided substance use and mental health treatment and recovery services. The presence of Xylazine in our community presents the latest threat to our efforts to save lives and fight the opioid crisis. Xylazine is especially dangerous because Naloxone cannot reverse its effects, it is difficult to detect in normal toxicology screens, and can cause severe skin wounds in addition to death. That’s why we appreciate Senator Schumer’s efforts to provide resources, including support for our CCBHC, to help prevent this drug spreading further in our community as we work to support those working towards substance use recovery.”

Jennifer Carlson, President & CEO of FLACRA said, “FLACRA’s employees are on the front lines every day helping local residents recover and heal from substance use and mental health challenges. The struggle for those battling opioid abuse is minute to minute, hour to hour, and dangerous new drugs like Xylazine makes our work so much more critical. We applaud Senator Schumer’s push to secure additional resources, including for our federally-funded Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic in Ontario and Yates counties, to bolster our work.”

A copy of Schumer’s letter to the FDA appears below:

Dear Dr. Califf:

The unlawful mixing of xylazine in illicit drugs poses a grave risk to Americas across the country. I applaud your agency for its prompt response to address this growing public health concern, and I urge the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to work with all due haste with the Office of Criminal Investigations (OCI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), as well as any necessary state and local partners to investigate and respond to this surge in illicit activities that are plaguing New York.

Across the country we are seeing concerning spikes in overdoses – and officials are beginning to notice similar, and troubling, connections to xylazine. Just last week, the city of Syracuse shared reports indicating more than 40 confirmed overdose cases in the downtown area with some connections to xylazine. The mixing of xylazine into other illicit drugs causes a number of dangers. As you know, while xylazine has received FDA-approval for its use in animals, the FDA has found xylazine to be unsafe for consumption in humans, posing serious and even life-threatening side effects. These risks include respiratory depression, hypotension, and severe, necrotic skin ulcerations at an individual’s injection site that may result in amputation. Little yet is understood about treating xylazine exposure in humans, and additional screening and analytical techniques are needed to detect xylazine in illicit drugs. With all this in mind, I am increasingly concerned for the health and safety of those individuals throughout New York who are unknowingly using illicit drugs that contain traces of xylazine.

As the threat of this growing crisis spreads across other communities, it is imperative that the FDA work efficiently to ensure local authorities and first responders understand the devastating effects of xylazine, and it is critical that the FDA begin to work with New York State and local law enforcement to investigate the new wave of xylazine-related activities, and put an end to this dangerous practice.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.

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