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Contaminated Cocaine Can Cause Flesh to Rot
Date:6/1/2010

Report finds veterinary medicine in drug may cause outer layer of skin to die

TUESDAY, June 1 (HealthDay News) -- Cocaine abusers -- already at risk for an abnormal heartbeat, blood pressure problems, hallucinations, convulsions and stroke -- can add another potential health complication to the list: rotting flesh.

"If you are a user of cocaine, you should be aware that some of the cocaine is not clean and can have other agents that can cause you to have a low white-cell count or skin tissue death," said Dr. Ghinwa Dumyati, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Rochester and an epidemiologist for the Monroe County Health Department in New York.

In a report in the June 1 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine, Dumyati and doctors from the University of Rochester Medical Center discuss two cases involving women with a history of cocaine use who came to the hospital for help when they noticed purplish plaques on their cheeks, earlobes, legs, thighs and buttocks.

Their profiles were typical of toxicity with levamisole, the doctors reported. The medication is a veterinary anti-worming agent, approved for use in cattle, sheep and pigs. It was once used to treat cancer, autoimmune diseases and kidney problems in humans, Dumyati said. It's no longer approved for use in people in the United States, she said, because of adverse side effects.

But it's often used to cut cocaine, before distribution to the user, she said. "Almost 80 percent of the cocaine coming into this country has levamisole mixed in," Dumyati said.

Exactly why is not known, she said. Some say it might enhance the effects of the drug, which include a euphoric mood or ''high" and a boost in energy. It also might be used to stretch the drug and increase profits.

"The person using cocaine would not know this [levamisole] is in it," Dumyati said.

In the new report, the doctors concluded, based on
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