Health & Beauty | December 2009
|Cocaine Impurity May Cause Life-Threatening Immune Crash, CDC Says|
Stacey Singer - Palm Beach Post
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December 20, 2009
You’ve heard cocaine is dangerous. There’s evidence the widespread use of a cutting agent may make it much more so.
|The blue at the bottom of the vial indicates a positive test for cocaine. (Richard Graulich/The Palm Beach Post)|
More than 70 percent of the crack and cocaine sold in the United States is now adulterated with levamisole, a veterinary de-wormer, according to a new federal report.
The substance, combined with cocaine, is likely the cause of a spate of rare immune disorders, and at least two deaths.
Called agranulocytosis, the illness occurs when bone marrow can’t make enough of a specialized white blood cell. The cells contain tiny granules full of enzymes which chew up germs. Lacking them, the body becomes vulnerable to infection.
Normally, the immune disorder is rare, with only about 7.2 cases per million per year. But two major outbreaks are described in a CDC journal called Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report today.
They suggest adulterated cocaine is behind a spike of agranulocytosis in Seattle, New Mexico and probably other cities across America.
“As of November 2009, a total of 10 cases had been investigated in conjunction with the Washington State Department of Health,” the CDC said.
In New Mexico, 11 cases had been confirmed. Besides cocaine, levamisole has been found in illegal heroin as well.
The CDC has asked doctors to stay alert for possible drug-linked white blood cell disorders and to test for levamisole within 48 hours if suspected. The agency is launching a nationwide effort to document the extent of the problem.
The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration issued this public health alert in the fall:
A dangerous substance, levamisole, is showing up with increasing frequency in illicit cocaine powder and crack cocaine. Levamisole can severely reduce the number of white blood cells, a problem called agranulocytosis. THIS IS A VERY SERIOUS ILLNESS THAT NEEDS TO BE TREATED AT A HOSPITAL. If you use cocaine, watch out for:
• high fever, chills, or weakness
• swollen glands
• painful sores (mouth, anal)
• any infection that won’t go away or gets worse very fast, including sore throat or mouth sores -skin infections, abscesses -thrush (white coating of the mouth, tongue, or throat) -pneumonia (fever, cough, shortness of breath).”
“Ingesting cocaine mixed with levamisole can seriously reduce a person’s white blood cells, suppressing immune function and the body’s ability to fight off even minor infections. People who snort, smoke, or inject crack or powder cocaine contaminated by levamisole can experience overwhelming, rapidly-developing, life threatening infections. Other serious side effects can also occur.”