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Unusual adulterants in cocaine seized on Italian clandestine market

Unusual adulterants in cocaine seized on Italian clandestine market

  1. staples
    Two unusual compounds, hydroxyzine and levamisole, were identified by GC–MS in a several large shipments of illicit cocaine seized in Rome. Twenty-eight kilograms of cocaine hydrochloride were confiscated in Rome and the seized materials was analysed by the local forensic laboratory. The drug was packed in blocks of compact white powder. An aliquot of the sample was submitted to a different analytical procedure to establish the percentage of purity of cocaine and the presence of major and minor impurities. The white powder was dissolved in methanol containing internal standard (ethaverine 2 mg/mL) for quantitative analysis. The sample was sonicated for 5 min and 1 μL of the resulting solution was immediately injected in the GC. Another aliquot was solubilized in methanol for qualitative analysis. GC–MS analysis were performed on a model 5890 gas chromatography fitted with a split–splitless injector (270 °C) equipped with a HP 1 capillary column (12 m × 0.2 mm i.d.) 0.3 μm film thickness methylsilicone. A linear programme from 70 to 280 °C at 10 °C/min increments with a 5 min final isotherm was chosen. Helium was employed as the carrier gas at a column head pressure of 10 psi. The capillary column was connected to a mass analyzer (HP 5971A) operated by electron impact (70 eV electronic impact) in total ion monitoring (40–500 amu) in order to identify cocaine congeners and quantify cocaine amount in each seizure (cocaine/ethaverine ratios). Compound identification was performed by comparison of the spectrum with a computerized mass spectra library. Quantitative analysis showed the blocks contained 80–90% of cocaine HCl. Moreover, in all cocaine seizures analysed, trace amounts of hydroxyzine and levamisole were detected. The presence of ecgonine methyl ester, ecgonine, tropacocaine, norcocaine, cis- and trans- cinnamoyl cocaine and benzoylecgonine were also identified. Hydroxyzine is marketed as an anxiolytic, antihistamine and as a mild tranquilizer. Levamisole is an antibiotic medication used to treat colon cancer and is a synthetic imidazothiazole derivative also employed as an antihelminthic to treat worm infestations in both humans and animals.

    Italian law restrict this drug to prescription use only. The presence of this compounds were not detected in other cocaine seizures in Italy. The presence of these substances was pointed out by Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) laboratory in the year 2003–2004 and 2007 in the USA clandestine market of illicit cocaine. Moreover, some research suggests that these are a signature for comparative purpose. It is possible that the hydroxyzine was added to the cocaine at the final processing stage of converting cocaine base to cocaine HCl (cocaine originated from Colombian grown coca leaf and converted to cocaine HCl utilizing Colombian Method solvents). This information may be useful for cocaine profiling for strategic intelligence purposes in assessing the extent of local drug supply and distribution networks and in identifying the origin or source of drug supply as well as new or established trafficking routes and distribution patterns.
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