WARNING: This story contains graphic images.
PHILADELPHIA – A tranq epidemic is already plaguing a neighborhood in the City of Brotherly Love, coating users with gruesome flesh wounds or killing them all together, but one recovering heroin addict and former resident believes the worst is yet to come.
"It's the worst thing I've ever seen," said Frank Rodriguez, who has become a local activist since getting clean. "This is literally chemical warfare."
Philadelphia's Kensington neighborhood has become a hotspot for drug users addicted to xylazine, an animal tranquilizer that has infiltrated the nation’s illicit drug supply. The drug, commonly known as tranq or the zombie drug, was found in over 90% of drug samples tested in Philadelphia in 2021, according to the Philadelphia Department of Health.
"It looks like a zombie movie," Rodriguez, a former drug dealer himself, said. "You see the people falling apart, limbs falling off."
In Kensington, drug users can be seen injecting themselves with needles or passed out on the pavement with fleas covering their flesh-eating wounds. A few barely clothed users stumbled into the busy road in stupors with cars nearly running them over.
Tranq can cause excruciating wounds that sometimes lead to amputations, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. The drug also leaves users unconscious for extended periods, leaving them susceptible to theft or rape. It can even be lethal.
Maggie, a 30-year-drug user, has been living on Kensington's streets for four years. She once blacked out and woke up shoeless after taking a drug without realizing it was mixed with xylazine.
"It’s horrible out here," Maggie said. "When it was regular heroin, it was nothing like that. It’s worse."
She said drugs' effects have become worse ever since tranq started getting mixed in. She described the stupor her friends on the streets experienced after unknowingly taking xylazine.
"You see people around here, and they don’t know what they’re doing … because of the xylazine," she said. "I’ve lost a lot of good friends. People are just dying all around."
In January 2019, fentanyl mixed with xylazine caused under 3% of all fatal overdoses across 20 states and Washington, D.C., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By June 2022, that jumped to over 10%.
And in March this year, the DEA warned about the deadly concoction's life-altering effects as well as tranq's growing presence nationwide. The agency found xylazine in 48 states and in 23% of fentanyl powder and 7% of fentanyl pills.
"Xylazine is making the deadliest drug threat our country has ever faced, fentanyl, even deadlier," DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said.
Rodriguez fled Kensington as part of his path to sobriety but goes back almost every week to provide food, water, clothes and haircuts to struggling drug users. The recovering addict also tries to encourage drug users to get clean like he did. He recalled the nights he slept in McPherson Park and abandoned homes while he was using.
But despite his efforts, Rodriguez told Fox News that the neighborhood deteriorated over the years as increasingly dangerous substances infiltrated the drug supply.
"It's 100% getting worse," Rodriguez said. "And it's gonna get worse tomorrow, and the next day is gonna be even worse."
To hear more about Philadelphia's tranq epidemic, click here.