'Zombie apocalypse' in UK town as flesh-eating drug turns people into 'walking dead'

‘Zombie apocalypse’ in UK town as flesh-eating drug turns people into ‘walking dead’

Drug outreach workers in Tower Hamlets, London, say they’ve seen a disturbing rise in users with flesh-eating abscesses sparking belief there is a new opioid on the rise disguised as heroin

AUK town has been likened to a “zombie apocalypse” due to a highly addictive new drug resulting in horrific skin sores.

People struggling with drug addictions are being preyed upon by dealers selling what outreach workers believe is a new wave of synthetic opioids. One area of Tower Hamlets, East London, has seen an influx of men and women lying in the floor covered in flesh wounds.

Community organisation Coffee Afrik, which works to support drug users, believes the people have been using the synthetic alternatives to heroin. While the claims are currently unproved, the organisation said it was seeing an insidious outbreak of users with the sores while lying catatonic and in agony just yards from Tower Hamlets Council’s headquarters.

The BBC’s Local Democracy Service reports “disturbing scenes” in the borough, with one man seen lying in pain on the floor with both legs covered in blood and pus-oozing sores wrapped in bandages. The man had passed out from the pain before outreach worker Abdi Hassan intervened calling 999.

Mr Hassan told how, in the last few weeks, he had seen more and more users suffering from rotting limbs, large holes across the body and leaky abscesses the size of golf balls. Coffee Afrik believes the new drug is being sold to users as heroin or crack.

Mahamuud Ali, who also works for the organisation, said during a separate outreach visit to Bethnal Green: “I think we need a lot of experts, we need the right people to come together and find out exactly what’s going on.

“I don’t have the answers because I’m not qualified, I’m not a medic and I’m not from the local authority – what I do know from my own experience is that it’s getting worse.” The flesh sore symptoms have been previously linked to a substance in America called xylazine – an animal sedative which has been known to cause skin to deteriorate and has previously resulted in amputations.

The current situation in Afghanistan has seen the Taliban ban opium poppies, stemming the flow of heroin to the rest of the world which experts believe is now being manufactured synthetically instead. Mr Hassan said: “It makes sense with the synthetic [opioids] that are being cut.”

When xylazine is mixed with extremely strong synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, it can prove fatal as it starves the brain of oxygen, slows down a person’s breathing and rapidly reduces their heart rate in an instant. America is seeing a growing number of overdose deaths related to the “tranq” drug xylazine being mixed with fentanyl.

Drug users in Tower Hamlets told reporters “you don’t know how big the problem is”, saying it takes several weeks to be put on a treatment programme because rehab and addiction support services were dealing with a “huge backlog” of cases. One homeless hostel which offers services for addictions said they had seen no evidence of the zombie-like symptom, but claimed there had been an uptick in addiction referrals.

Dr Emily Finch, chair of addictions faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said addiction services were facing a major workforce crisis impacting the quality of treatment patients receive. She said: “I think our biggest problem at the moment is the workforce, there’s a real difficulty to recruit doctors and nurses – they’re not well paid.

“People don’t get as much high quality treatment because they don’t build a good relationship with a member of staff who is supporting them. We genuinely don’t know whether this is the beginning of a really big problem or whether it’s a bit of a blip – we’ve had blips before.

“At the moment the testing for [synthetic opioids] is not systematic enough – baring in mind heroin itself kills you, it properly kills you. The biggest risk is not a mental health risk, the biggest risk is overdose because it suppresses your respiration – [synthetic opioids] probably add to that and are making it worse – and it may be that they are causing more deaths because of that.”

Earlier this month, 30 drug-related deaths reported in Birmingham through June and July were linked back to a new synthetic opioid drug called N-desethyl Isotonitazene which is 20 times stronger than fentanyl. The problem, Dr Finch added, may already exist in the capital despite no definitive proof.

She said: “I have seen good old fashioned heroin, I’ve seen awful legs and it may be that what you’re seeing is from synthetic opioids or xylazine and is causing more problems, but I think heroin itself could cause those problems. Any injection causes bad problems. Injecting is bad news and then people start injecting in their legs.”

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