Stories about contaminated cocaine have been reported before, but I broke the latest story this week out of Harbor UCLA Medical Center. At least 70 percent of the crack cocaine sold has been cut with a medicine used to deworm livestock. The result to the human body is deep purple sores on the ears, nose, and face. From my story (Daily News, June, 2011):
Crack cocaine contaminated with a deworming agent used in livestock is causing a severe skin reaction in those who smoke or snort the drug, researchers are finding.
Physicians in emergency departments in both Los Angeles and New York are seeing deep, purple colored patches and decomposing skin on ears, noses, cheeks, and other parts of the body on some crack cocaine users, according to findings in a report published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.
The skin lesions can be painful and horrific and point to a potential public health epidemic, researchers say.
The report, which was written six months ago, tracked six patients with similar skin reactions. All were cocaine users.
After some follow ups, researchers found that patients who used the contaminated cocaine all had traces of the deworming agent levamisole in their bodies. Levamisole was once used in humans to kill intestinal worms but was discontinued because of allergic reactions. The agent is now used on cows, pigs, and sheep.
Such severe skin reaction cases appear to be continuous in Los Angeles, said Dr. Noah Craft, a researcher at the Los Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and principal author of the report.
“We see them regularly,” Craft said. “We believe these cases of skin reactions and illnesses linked to contaminated cocaine are just the tip of the iceberg in a looming public health problem posed by levamisole.”
In one case, a patient used cocaine again and developed the same skin reaction again.
“He then switched drug dealers and the problem cleared up,” Craft said.