A killer flesh-rotting animal tranquiliser is now rife in cocaine sold in Britain, warn experts.

Xylazine, nicknamed ‘tranq’, has helped turn US cities like Philadelphia and New York into ‘zombielands’, leaving users lifeless.

But the potent drug — strong enough to knock out elephants — is now widespread on UK streets. 

It has already been linked to 11 deaths, but experts say this could be the tip of the iceberg and that hundreds more could die in the coming years. 

Researchers found tranq laced in supplies of hard opioids like heroin and fentanyl.

Karl Warburton, 43, (pictured) died in May 2022 from the effects of xylazine combined with other drugs including heroin, fentanyl and cocaine

Dealers use the substance as a cutting agent to make drugs even more potent than they already are as well as stretch supplies. 

King’s College London academics also found tranq in cocaine, counterfeit codeine and Valium tablets, and some cannabis vapes.

Experts warned this showed the extent to which tranq has penetrated Britain’s drug supply with users unaware they buying drugs laced with the tranquilliser. 

Tranq can rot the body from the inside out causing ulcers to in people who inject the drug directly into their blood.

Analysis of toxicology report has linked tranq to 11 deaths in the UK since 2022, the majority of which occurred last year.

A powerful animal tranquiliser that has helped turn some US cities into ‘zombielands’ is being added to UK cocaine supplies, experts have warned

This is thought to include Karl Warburton, a 43-year-old factory worker who became the UK’s first known tranq victim in 2023.  

Researchers warned the 11 figure is likely to be an a ‘gross underestimation’, given how UK labs have not routinely been testing for the drug.

Many of the people included in the toxicology reports also tested positive for cocaine use.  

Writing in the journal Addiction, experts warned that if tranq exploded in use like in the US hundreds of Brits could die. 

‘If the UK were to experience the 20-fold increase in deaths seen in the US since 2015, deaths following xylazine use could be anticipated to exceed 220 deaths by 2028,’ they said. 

Xylazine was originally developed as an animal tranquiliser in the 60s, typically for large animals like cows and horses.

It binds to and blocks adrenergic receptors in the brain, which release the stress hormones norepinephrine and dopamine, effectively slowing brain activity.

The result is a reduction in pain and stress, as well as a sense of euphoria similar to that of opioids. 

As such, its powerful narcotic effects can dangerously lower people’s heart rate and breathing. 

Senior author Dr Caroline Copeland, an expert in toxicology, said: ‘We now know that xylazine has penetrated the UK’s illicit drug market. 

This map shows the locations where xylazine has been detected in the UK in a combination of toxicology reports in people, as well as samples taken from drugs tested or seized by authorities.  Locations are approximated to the county or city reported. Five toxicology cases where location was completely redacted are placed to the right of the map, and two cases with the location only listed as Scotland are randomly placed in the country

Xylazine depresses the central nervous system, causing users, such as these in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, to exhibit a zombie-like appearance

The flesh-eating drug can affect someone’s skin in places separate from the injection site. This patient often injected the drug into his neck with gruesome effects

‘This is cause for alarm as a much wider population of people who use drugs beyond heroin users will be exposed to its harms.’

She called for the UK to implement three measures to prevent a similar tranq ‘epidemic’ as that which has struck the US. 

‘Cheap xylazine test strips should be made available, healthcare providers need to be aware of the signs that chronic skin ulcers are due to xylazine use, and pathologists and coroners should specifically request toxicology testing for xylazine in relevant cases to understand the true prevalence of the drug,’ she said.

In addition to looking at toxicology reports, Dr Copeland and team also looked at 14 drugs samples which had tested positive for tranq.

Two of these were for THC (the psychoactive component of cannabis) vapes, with the rest being counterfeit painkillers, sleeping pills, and anti-anxiety medications. 

Tranq’s rise in the US, where the powerful sedative is mixed with stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine, has been credited with creating ‘zombies’ on the streets of major cities like Philadelphia, New York, Sacramento and Portland.

The combination of sedative and stimulant turns users into human statues that exist in a zombie like state rather than passing out completely. 

Its other famous effect is a ‘flesh rotting’ quality observed among people who take it.

While not fully understood, the theory is that tranq constricts blood vessels, slowing down or blocking oxygenated blood from flowing throughout the body.

This can prevent major and minor injuries, including drug injections, from healing properly increasing the risk of infection.

Its presence in cocaine is particularly worrying for the UK, with Britain having the highest usage of the drug in Europe.

One in 40 adults (2.7 percent) in the UK take the class A drug, more than any other country in Europe, according to figures from the The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Once the preserve of high society, cocaine is now widely used across British society.

This is, in part, thanks to its price falling in real terms over the past decade and how in many places in the country it can be delivered ‘as quickly as a pizza’. 

Separate data from the Office for National Statistics shows deaths involving cocaine have increased eight-fold over the past decade and have risen for ten consecutive years.

In 2021, 840 people died in England and Wales due to cocaine, up from 112 deaths in 2011.

One in 40 adults in the UK take the class A drug, which is more than any other country in Europe and behind only Australia globally

Meanwhile, the number of older people treated for cocaine abuse in hospital in England rose sharply in the past year, according to NHS data.

Over-60s — dubbed ‘silver snorters’ — were admitted 540 times. They included 85 aged 70 to 79, 11 in their 80s and three in their 90s.

Experts have said the UK high rate of cocaine use is fuelled by Britain’s drinking culture, with many taking the stimulant to counteract the sedative effects of alcohol.

Tranq which is cheaper than many other illicit substances, costing as little as £5 per kg, is often added to provide a more powerful kick for users. 

Mixing this way also allows dealers to stretch their supplies and get users hooked more easily, providing a cruel and profitable cycle of repeat customers for dealers. 

There is no approved antidote for tranq overdoses in humans, with treatment instead focused on counteracting the drug’s effects. 

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