Hospitals all over Chicago are seeing something strange. Patients whose skin is turning purple, then dying. In the worst cases, body parts could fall off. CBS 2's Suzanne LeMignot reports the DEA thinks it knows why.
Drug Enforcement Administration Supervisory Chemist Camala Dubach says there has been a tremendous increase in drug dealers using levamisole, used as a dewormer in livestock, in cocaine production.
Just four years ago, levamisole was found in only 7 percent of the cocaine tested by the DEA. Now, the number has increased dramatically.
Right here in Chicago, 82 percent of the cocaine, in just the first four months of this year, was found to have levamisole.
"Yes, and not just locally, in Chicago or Illinois as well. We cover 12 other states and we're seeing the rise in those states as well," Dubach said.
So why the dramatic increase?
When asked if profit was a reason, since they're cutting the cocaine with so much levamisole, that they're using less cocaine, Dubach said, "That's always a possibility. However the laboratory system isn't going to take a position right now, because we're unsure as to why the increase of levamisole has been seen."
People who repeatedly use cocaine cut with levamisole experience unsightly skin lesions, and even skin death.
"There's some skin lesions that show redness, which is inflammation in the skin, and some dark coloration that can be signs of skin death," said Dr. Katherine Brown, Senior Resident at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
It usually starts on a person's ears.
In just the past few months, Dr. Brown and Clinical Dermatologist Dr. Joaquin Brieva have started seeing multiple patients on rounds at Northwestern Memorial, with these skin changes and a drop in their white blood cell count.
"White cells fight infection," said Dr. Brieva. "Without the white cells, people can die suddenly of overwhelming infections."
At first, it's thought a patient has an auto-immune disease, but then they fess up to cocaine use, after blood work finds levamisole.
"It's extremely alarming. It's my understanding that approximately two million Americans are using cocaine every month, and they're exposing themselves to a catastrophic adverse reaction from this chemical now laced in the drug supply," said Dr. Brieva.
Dr. Brieva also says the only way to end skin deterioration is to stop exposure to levamisole.
One thing the DEA says is of great interest is where the large quantities of levamisole are coming from.
April 22, 2010
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Livestock de-wormer in cocaine is killing skin