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Cocaine laced with veterinary drug causing serious illness

September 24, 2009 |  8:38 am

Cocaine

A federal agency warned this week that cocaine laced with levamisole, a veterinary anti-parasitic drug, has caused 20 cases of a serious medical disorder.

Officials at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration say they expect to see more cases of people sickened by the adulterated cocaine as doctors learn of the association. The drug mixture has caused agranulocytosis, a life-threatening disorder that causes a drop in the number of white blood cells. Two deaths have occurred among the 20 confirmed or suspected cases related to adulterated cocaine.

Levamisole is used in cattle, sheep and swine to prevent parasites. It is not approved for human use.

It is unclear how and why levamisole is turning up in cocaine. Drug Enforcement Administration testing shows the amount of levamisole-laced cocaine in circulation in the United States has been increasing since 2002. In samples of illicit cocaine analyzed in July, more than 70% contained levamisole. A recent study performed in Seattle found that 80% of people who tested positive for cocaine also tested positive for levamisole.

Agranulocytosis comes on very fast with severe symptoms. People who use cocaine should watch out for high fever, chills, weakness, swollen glands, painful sores in the mouth and anus and any infection that won't go away or gets worse very fast.

-- Shari Roan

Photo: Levamisole is used to treat livestock for parasites but has been showing up in cocaine. Credit: Danny Johnston / Associated Press

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