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Cocaine Abuse

Tainted Cocaine Causing Rotting Skin Condition across US

posted 01:45 AM EST, Thu June 30, 2011

Doctors in San Francisco, LA and Rochester New York are saying that levamisole (an agricultural de-worming agent) tainted cocaine is causing people to show up in hospitals with purplish decaying skin on the face and ears.

The vast majority of cocaine sold at the retail level in America is cut with an agricultural de-worming drug that drug traffickers use to boosts cocaine’s potency and stretch their profits (by 2009, DEA tests revealed 70% contamination).

But while adding agricultural supplies to the powder might make good financial sense to a drug baron, it may not be what the casual user would want, especially since doctors say that it’s causing users to develop a condition called purpura.

Purpura manifests as painful purplish dead and decaying skin, generally around the ears or face. The condition is very uncomfortable and people with purpura are at increased risk of developing peripheral infections.

A team of doctors who published a study on the cocaine caused condition say that at first, no one could figure out what was causing the increase of purpura being seen in hospital emergency rooms across the country. It wasn’t until they looked at levamisole as a possible culprit and doctors began testing purpura subjects for cocaine that things started to make a little more sense. Dermatologist and contributing study author Dr. Mary Gail Mercurio explained, saying, "When we first started seeing these patients they all had a similar clinical picture, but they were really an enigma because they weren't falling into any other pattern we'd seen before. When a colleague at the National Institutes of Health mentioned levamisole contamination, we did toxicity screens and lo-and-behold, all the patients came up positive for cocaine. We had our diagnosis."

The study authors say they aren’t sure how levamisole is causing the disorder, but say that purpura is treatable and that the condition goes away with cessation of tainted cocaine use.  Overall, however, the medical researchers aren’t so optimistic, warning, "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.”

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Story Highlights
  • Tainted Cocaine: A cutting agent found in the majority of cocaine in the US is causing people to develop a painful skin condition called purpura.
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