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Contaminated cocaine triggers decaying, dying skin
Date:6/23/2011

If the obvious reasons for avoiding recreational drug use aren't off-putting enough, physicians have yet another detrimental consequence to add to the list crusty, purplish areas of dead skin that are extremely painful and can open the door to nasty infections.

The condition is called purpura. Typical causes include a range of rare disorders, but it is also associated with the use of cocaine. Not just any cocaine, though: Physicians, researchers and health officials believe cocaine contaminated with a de-worming drug commonly used by veterinarians is the culprit. The drug, called levamisole, was found in 30 percent of confiscated cocaine in 2008 and 70 percent in 2009, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

In the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, physicians highlight six new and very similar patient cases of purpura, mostly on and around the ears, following cocaine use. The cases four seen in Rochester, N.Y., and two in Los Angeles closely resemble two additional cases in San Francisco that were reported previously in the journal. In each case an extensive battery of blood tests ruled out the usual causes of purpura.

The cases were reported by the University of Rochester Medical Center and the University of California, Los Angeles.

Because testing for traces of levamisole in the blood is complex and unreliable, researchers cannot say for sure that it is the direct cause of purpura in these instances. But, due to the striking similarity of these cases, and the presence of another condition caused by levamisole called agranulocytosis low blood counts that up the risk of infection in the majority of the patients, doctors say there is strong reason to suspect the drug and to focus greater attention on what could become a widespread health concern.

"We believe these cases of skin reactions and illnesses linked to contaminated cocaine are just the tip of the iceberg in a loo
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Contact: Emily Boynton
emily_boynton@urmc.rochester.edu
585-273-1757
University of Rochester Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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