News Release

More Research Needed on So-Called “Zombie” Drug


Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has called for a special Drug Enforcement Administration team to help fight xylazine, a sedative used in animals that is often mixed with opioids like fentanyl and heroin. On Twitter, Schumer called xylazine a “zombie” drug that can cause “flesh-rot.”

    Zagorski is a paramedic and harm reductionist, supporting overdose response programming and research at the University of Texas at Austin College of Pharmacy’s PhARM Program.

Zagorski told the Institute for Public Accuracy that xylazine is different than drugs that commonly cause fatal overdose, like fentanyl. “Xylazine is different. On its own, it’s not immediately or rapidly killing people. Instead, it’s creating noxious, longer-acting, poorly understood harms.” In particular, xylazine is known to cause wounds of unknown etiology. Zagorski urges lawmakers, including Schumer, to invest in basic scientific research that would help scientists get information out to healthcare providers and create a consensus around the best way to care for xylazine-related wounds.

The “zombie drug” rhetoric that Schumer and other lawmakers are using to describe xylazine is “tremendously emotionally-resonant,” said Zagorski. “It is a way to whip up emotion in a constituency. It’s really easy to get scared about drugs. But the fact is, we need more concrete answers. We know that at this point, as much as we want to eliminate a particular drug, we have never done that successfully. We just need some money to understand it more, and funds to reduce harm as much as possible.”