May Affect One-Third of U.S. Cocaine
Federal drug enforcement agents are reporting that one-third of the cocaine seized in this country is tainted with a dangerous veterinary de-worming medicine that enhances the effects of cocaine, but may have killed three.
The medication is called levamisole, and it has sickened more than 100 in the U.S. and Canada. The drug is sometimes used in treating colorectal cancer.
It weakens the body’s immune system and can leave patients vulnerable to infections. Authorities believe the drug is added in Columbia before the cocaine is smuggled north.
The Associated Press reviewed Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) documents and found the numbers on tainted drugs among those seized.
Doctors who treat drug overdoses generally have no idea this is going on.
Eric Lavonas, assistant director of the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center in Denver, where as much as half of the cocaine is believed to contain levamisole, tells AP, "You can't diagnose a disease you've never heard of.”
AP reports the drug began showing up in street supplies from Columbia in January 2008, after which time the DEA found the tainted cocaine was in wide circulation. Around that time, more cocaine users were admitted to the hospital with a lowered white blood cell count, necessary to fight off infections.
Since street-level purity of cocaine has been lowered by economic pressures, AP reports cocaine traffickers may be adding the drug for an extra boost.
One death and three illnesses were reported among cocaine users in the Spokane, Washington. A dozen illnesses have been reported in Denver with patients requiring intensive care and surgery. Other deaths with a suspected link to levamisole were reported in New Mexico and Alberta, Canada.
A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine finds that the drug might increase dopamine in the brain, as it has done in animal experiments.
DEA spokesman Paul Knierim says the message remains the same: “Don’t use cocaine, it’s a dangerous drug.” #