BRITS apparently love cocaine, even cabinet ministers have admitted using the Class A drug.
But cocaine users could be at even more risk than previously thought.
It’s long been known that cocaine can cause heart problems and damage to the nasal cartilage. Making matters worse, unscrupulous dealers have always adulterated pure cocaine with other substances, such as caffeine, laxatives and even detergent in order to maximise their profits.
Now, says a study in the British Medical Journal, a de-worming drug intended for farm use is making its way into the illegal supply chain.
The drug, levamisole, could have devastating health risks.
The BMJ article describes how doctors were trying to treat a woman with mysterious open sores and severe abdominal and joint pain but were stumped as to the cause of her symptoms.
After running chemical tests on the patient’s hair, the team realised her condition had been caused by levamisole-tainted cocaine she’d taken.
Levamisole poisoning can cause skin lesions and discolouration and rotting of the skin when blood cells rupture, particularly in extremities such as the ears, nose and fingers.
Ingesting the chemical can also lead to a drop in white blood cell count, which leaves sufferers vulnerable to further infections.
“It’s a little bit like having HIV” said Dr Noah Craft, a dermatologist at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, during a 2011 spate of levamisole poisoning cases in the US.
In the UK in 2017-2018, 2.6% of people aged 16-59 took powdered cocaine, reports substance abuse charity Addaction.
With use of levamisole reportedly widespread by cocaine dealers, those cocaine users could be sitting on a ticking time bomb of severe, potentially deadly, medical problems.