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Life-threatening risk associated with cocaine contaminated with veterinary anti-parasitic drug

Mon, Jun 7th, 2010
Posted in Health & Wellness

Health officials at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), Minnesota Poison Control System and Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) have identified three confirmed and two suspect cases of neutropenia associated with recent use of cocaine tainted with levamisole. Neutropenia is a significant decrease in the body's neutrophil count which is a blood cell important for protecting the body from infection. Levamisole also causes other adverse side effects including damaging other cells such as red blood cells and platelets.

All cases were diagnosed by health care providers during March through May 2010 with severe, unexplained neutropenia. The age of the patients ranged from 25-60 years. Three were females and two were males. All were residing in the metro area when they became ill. Two of the patients died but also had other significant contributing conditions. Symptoms can include fever, darkened or "dead-looking" skin, and other severe infections associated with low white cell counts.

Levamisole is an anti-worm medication approved for use in veterinary medicine in the United States and South America. It is commonly added to cocaine as a diluting agent and as of July 2009 was detected by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in 69 percent of cocaine lots coming into the United States.

These are the first cases of this condition to be identified in Minnesota. However, the association between levamisole and unexplained neutropenia was first identified in April 2008 from a cluster of 11 cases in New Mexico. Since then, there have been cases identified throughout the U.S. as well as a cluster in Alberta, Canada. More information on this topic can be found online in the December 2009 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Review (MMWR) released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

Anyone experiencing fever or acute infection onset with a history of cocaine use should see their provider immediately. For 24/7 medical information, contact the Minnesota Poison Control System at 1-800-222-1222. For additional information, contact the Minnesota Department of Human Services Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division at (651) 431-2460 or

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