What is the New Flesh Eating Drug?

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It sounds like something out of a horror movie. Headlines proclaim that a flesh-eating drug is causing people to lose their limbs, and potentially their lives. Can this possibly be true?

Is There Really a Flesh-Eating Drug?

Yes, believe it or not, there really is a flesh-eating drug. In fact, there are actually two (that we currently know about). 

Of course, as we’ll elaborate on in the subsection below, “flesh-eating drug” isn’t the official name for either of these drugs, nor is it a common street term. This descriptor is used to describe the grievous harm that the drugs can cause.

What are They Called?

The two most widely known flesh-eating drugs are xylazine and desomorphine. Here are some quick facts about each one:

  • Xylazine: Commonly referred to as tranq, xylazine is a tranquilizer that is used in veterinary medicine. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not authorized xylazine to be used in any medical procedures on humans. Warnings about the dangers of tranq began to be issued in the United States around 2020.
  • Desomorphine: This substance, which is much more powerful than morphine, had been used by Swiss doctors to treat severe pain patients until the early 1980s. In the early 2000s, an illicit version of desomorphine called krokodil began to appear on the streets of the United States.


Xylazine (tranq) and desomorphine (krokodil) both cause opioid-like effects such as elevated mood, numbness to pain, and relaxed euphoria. This has made them attractive to people who are seeking a certain type of recreational high. 

In addition to dangers such as overdose and death, repeated use of these drugs can also cause severe skin lesions, the degradation of muscle, and similar symptoms. Many people who have abused these flesh-eating drugs have needed to undergo amputations to prevent these effects from spreading throughout their body.

Where are The Flesh-Eating Drugs?

Desomorphine was first synthesized in 1920. But it would take more than 80 years for the illicit version known as krokodil to appear. Krokidil originated in Russia around 2002. 

Widespread abuse of krokodil has been mostly limited to Europe, though it has also shown up on streets in the U.S.

In 2013, several news articles warned Americans about the dangers of krokodil. These articles were prompted by reports of people in Illinois, Arizona, and Oklahoma who ended up in the hospital after using what was then described as both a flesh-eating drug and a zombie drug.

Xylazine’s history traces to 1962, when it was developed as a potential anesthetic or painkiller. However, testing revealed a high risk of severe side effects in humans, which precluded its use outside of veterinary medicine. 

As with desomorphine, a few decades passed before the street version of xylazine (tranq) appeared:

  • In the United States, xylazine abuse began in Puerto Rico in the early 2000s. 
  • In 2020, it was responsible for 26% of all drug overdose deaths in Pennsylvania
  • In 2021, 19% of drug overdose deaths in Maryland were because of tranq.
  • By 2023, tranq was reported to be in almost every major city, including New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago, as well as myriad smaller towns.

How Do These Drugs Eat Flesh?

The flesh-eating effects of tranq and krokodil are most common among people who abuse them via IV injection. Over time, this form of drug abuse can begin to cause abscesses, ulcers, or sores.

According to an August 2022 article in the journal Cureus, tranq restricts blood vessels near the area of the injection. It also slows respiration, which means that skin cells aren’t receiving the amount of oxygen they need. Both of these effects can prevent healing.

As the infection spreads through the bloodstream, it can cause osteomyelitis, which is an inflammation in the bones. The combination of soft tissue death and bone inflammation can result in extensive damage and extreme pain.

The new flesh eating drug

What to Do if You Have Used a Flesh-Eating Drug?

If you have been using a flesh-eating drug, the first thing to do is stop using it. If you have begun to notice worsening skin damage, you should get immediate medical attention. 

Unfortunately, one of the reasons that tranq has become such a widespread danger is that it is often added to heroin or other opioids without the user’s knowledge. Thus, many people inject this flesh-eating drug without realizing it. They may only discover what they have ingested when they notice their worsening skin condition.

No matter when you realize that you have used a flesh-eating drug, medical care is a necessity. Without effective and timely addiction treatment, possible outcomes can include amputation and death.

Can a Flesh-Eating Drug be Addictive?

The many dangers of using a flesh-eating drug include the risk of addiction. You may become addicted to the flesh-eating drug itself or the drug that it is combined with. In either case, compulsive substance abuse can lead to a wide range of negative outcomes, including overdose and death.

But there is a glimmer of good news: Addiction is treatable. When you get proper care from a reputable addiction treatment provider, you can stop using flesh-eating drugs and other dangerous substances. 

Depending on the nature and severity of your struggles with addiction, treatment may include medication and therapy. You benefit from receiving these services at several levels of care, including detox, residential treatment, and outpatient programming.

Find Treatment for Drug Addiction at Renewal Health Group

Renewal Health Group is a premier provider of life-affirming treatment for adults whose lives have been disrupted by addictions to alcohol, opioids, and other drugs. The dedicated professionals who provide care at our centers understand the many ways that untreated addiction can impact your life – and we’re prepared to provide the personalized care that will help you achieve a drug-free future. 

When you’re ready to start living the life you deserve, Renewal Health Group is here for you. Visit our Contact page or call today to learn more.

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