It used to be that if you snorted cocaine, you took the risk of rotting your septum. Now if you snort cocaine, you run the risk of rotting your skin.
Cocaine is an addictive stimulant of the central nervous system. Snorting, injecting and smoking cocaine are the main ways to for a person to use it. When sold on the street, it is common for dealers to “cut” their cocaine to stretch the supply and make more money. Cheap cocaine can sometimes be cut up to ninety percent. Called fillers, ingredients used for cutting cocaine include baking soda, Vitamin B12, cornstarch and talcum powder.
Recently, however, large supplies of cocaine are being cut with levamisole, a veterinary antibiotic that farmers normally use to deworm cattle, sheep and pigs. Drug cartels from South America are reportedly sending the cocaine overseas and into the U.S. already cut with levamisole, which is baffling officials.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) first reported seeing significant amounts of levamisole-tainted cocaine in 2005. A 2010 DEA report found that between October 2007 and October 2009, the percentage of seized cocaine bricks containing levamisole jumped from two percent to seventy percent. This trend has continued, and the DEA’s most recent estimate is that up to eighty-two percent of street cocaine is now cut with levamisole.
Studies in rats suggest that levamisole might stimulate the same brain receptors that cocaine does, which may explain why dealers would choose to use it as a filler; users get a more intense high for as cheap a price as if it had been cut with baking soda, making them more likely to come back for more. Why the foreign drug cartels ship cocaine already containing levamisole remains a mystery.
However, while it may be cheaper to get a better high, the user could end up paying a bigger price physically.
Los Angeles and New York recently reported outbreaks of a flesh-eating disease linked to cocaine use. Doctors discovered that the affected individuals had all used cocaine cut with levamisole. The disease follows a predictable progression: the day after exposure to levamisole, the flesh begins to rot due to an immune reaction that damages the blood vessels that supply blood to the skin. When that happens, the skin receives no oxygen, which causes it to change to a dark-purplish color and die. Necrosis—dying skin—usually occurs on the scalp, ears and face of users of the tainted cocaine. Not all users are at risk; some are more vulnerable to the levamisole-tainted cocaine than others.
“We don’t know who this is going to happen to,” said Dr. Lindy Fox, the University of California-San Francisco dermatologist who first connected the horrid skin lesions on cocaine abusers to levamisole.
The association between flesh-eating skin infections and levamisole-tainted cocaine was first identified in April 2008 from a cluster of 11 cases in New Mexico. In 2009, there were five patients in Minnesota admitted with confirmed levamisole-related infections, two of whom died. Since then, there have been numerous cases reported throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Over the past few months, cases of the flesh-eating infection have been cropping up around the country, suggesting a possible future epidemic. The Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology recently described six cases where users developed ghastly splotches of dead skin after snorting or smoking cocaine laced with the drug levamisole, and more cases are reported every month.
“It’s probably quite a big problem, and we just don’t know yet how big a problem it really is,” said Dr. Noah Craft, a dermatologist with Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute.
Cocaine users may experience yet another dangerous reaction when using cocaine cut with levamisole. In addition to rotting the flesh, levamisole prevents the bone marrow from producing disease-fighting white blood cells. This cripples their immune systems and leaves them open to infection.
“It’s a little bit like having HIV,” said Craft, adding that without medical intervention, the condition can be deadly. “About 10 percent of those patients will die from severe infections. They may be walking around like a time bomb.”
About The Author:
This Post was written and contributed by Ricky Stanton. Ricky has over 10 years of experience helping people with their drug rehab programs. He hopes to continue to help educate others about the dangers of drug and alcohol addictions.