The Fentanyl Crisis: The Smell of Rotting Flesh
Anderson Cooper’s Town Hall tonight at 9 p.m. ET, ‘America Addicted: The Fentanyl Crisis’ exposes the life-threatening toll that fentanyl has taken across America.
Philadelphia, one of the hardest-hit places, has seen the rise of fentanyl addiction and the emergence of a new deadly player in the game, xylazine.
If you find yourself in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, the smell of rotting flesh will hit you. It comes from the wounds of drug users infected with xylazine. It is a grim reminder of the crisis that plagues the city.
James Sherman, who goes by the name of Sherm in the neighborhood, is trying to help those still on the streets. He describes the situation as “absolutely horrible” but insists that it is the reality they have to face.
According to Sherm, the wounds are killing them. He has seen how xylazine has become a bigger part of Philly’s street fentanyl supply in the last three years.
Xylazine, also known as tranq, is an animal tranquilizer used by veterinarians to sedate horses. It can cause large wounds that don’t heal no matter where you inject it. Infections are common and can even lead to amputations.
“It’s literally people’s flesh rotting, and you can smell it,” says Sherm.
Beneath the Elevated Rail Line: Changing Nature of America’s Addiction Crisis
Kensington is well-known as a place to buy heroin under the elevated rail line. It is a short distance, but a world away from the business and tourist centers of downtown.
Heroin was edged out by the more powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl. And now, xylazine has been added to street fentanyl to “give it legs,” according to Sarah Laurel.
Laurel founded Savage Sisters, a harm-reduction group that employs Sherm. They offer several mental health programs for people in their recovery houses.
Maggie, who is 66, has been addicted to drugs for a long time. She said that it’s time to face the past that led her to drug addiction. She was abused when she was five years old. Drug use disorder often comes with underlying problems like Maggie’s.
Xylazine Withdrawal and the Fear of the Unknown
Dana, a user who is seeking treatment from Savage Sisters for her wounds, vividly describes how violently ill she was when in withdrawal from xylazine. She said, “I’d rather come off fentanyl and heroin put together than xylazine.”
Xylazine withdrawal causes intense anxiety and dysphoria, and the drugs used to treat opioid withdrawal don’t work well for it. That makes the public health crisis worse. People are avoiding the hospital because they feel like the withdrawal symptoms can’t be well managed.
D’Orazio says that there needs to be more focus on prevention and early intervention for people with a history of trauma. Mental health care and affordable housing should be more accessible, and drugs that treat addiction should be less restricted.
It’s a chronic disease like diabetes, and less stigma should be attached to it. If we stop isolating the substance and look beyond it, we might be able to address the underlying pain that has led people to drug addiction.
To sum it up, xylazine is the new deadly player in the addiction crisis. Its effects are deadly, and the pain it causes for users is unbearable. We need to address the underlying issues that drive people towards drugs and work towards preventing drug addiction at an early stage.