Friday, March 20, 2009

One-third of cocaine tainted, DoJ reports; may lead to immune suppression and infection

An obscure graph in an obscure report in DEA's scientific publication, the Microgram, reports that in October 2008, thirty percent of the samples of seized cocaine were tainted with levamisole, a medication used to de-worm animals -- dogs and cats, even hogs. This is a ten-fold increase since October 2007.

The report shows that the tainting had been seen in a small fraction of samples for many years but has rapidly grown in the past year in samples seized in the United States. The State of Delaware issued an advisory about this in September 2005!

The New Mexico Department of Health is warning the public that an unusually high incidence of agranulocytosis (a condition of a suppressed immune system) has been reported in parts of the state, Arizona, and Canada, which may be associated with use of cocaine tainted by levamisole.

The symptoms of agranulocytosis include:
• Worsening or persistent sore throat
• Persistent or recurrent fever
• Swollen glands
• Painful sores (mouth, anal)
• Skin infection, especially if associated with painful swelling
• Thrush (a white fungal coating of the mouth, tongue or throat)
• Other unusual infections.
Persons with these symptoms should seek medical care as soon as possible.

If the cocaine being seized by the DEA in the U.S. is representative of the cocaine being distributed, then it is likely that there are many more cases of agranulocytosis than are being reported. This sounds like a potential public health emergency.
On March 18, 2009, the Erie County, New York Health Department issued a warning about levamisole contamination.

Here is a March 5 report from Denver. And the chief health officer of Nunavut, the new province in the north of Canada issued a warning.

Health officials in British Columbia, Canada are investigating a number of cases of agranulocytosis in people who use cocaine. They have also identified levamisole in one of their cases. Here's a report on 10 persons in British Columbia and the official public health warning there.

At the end of November 2008, public health officials in Alberta, Canada identified seven cases.

New York's Health Department has this undated warning.
[updated March 23, 2009, 4:02 pm EDST]

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