A drug frequently used to "cut" cocaine in the U.S. and Britain poses serious risks to those who take it, reports say.
Levamisole, which was previously used to treat patients with parasitic infections until its side effects became known, is freely available in Latin America as a de-wormer for livestock, Daily Record reported.
Levamisole, however, is now routinely used to cut cocaine in the U.S. and Britain, which has reportedly led to dangerous side effects -- such as people's ears turning black and people's flesh dying. This is in addition to the dangers of cocaine itself, which include heart attacks, psychosis and depression.
In one case, a 42-year-old woman contracted a condition called vasculitis, a condition characterized by inflamed blood vessels, by taking cocaine laced with levamisole. She developed lesions on her skin, abdominal pains, and joint and muscular pain.
Another woman was taken to hospital after a black rash began to appear on her face after she had been on a three-day cocaine binge, Daily Record reported.
Both women’s cases were published in the medical journal BMJ Case Review.
The skin sores appear several days after the patient has taken a hit of cocaine and develop because the immune system attacks the blood vessels supplying the skin, notes Los Angeles-based dermatologist Dr. Noah Craft, who authored a case study on cocaine users in 2011.
In a number of cases in the U.S., patients in Los Angeles and New York showed the drug’s flesh-eating symptoms, prompting authorities to issue their first warning about the effects of levamisole.
Levamisole can also lower a person's white blood cell count, which can make him or her more prone to infection.
In the U.S., a Drug Enforcement Agency report from 2011 concluded that 82 percent of all cocaine seized contained levamisole. Similar results were found by an analysis of cocaine in the U.K., according to the Daily Mail.
These results show that cocaine smuggling is changing. In the past, glucose or baking soda were used to cut the cocaine, and it was the dealers in the U.K. or U.S. who did the cutting. Now levamisole is being added at the source by producers of the drugs in South America.