(U//FOUO) LA-JRIC 82% of Cocaine in U.S. Contaminated by Veterinary De-worming Drug

Los Angeles Joint Regional Intelligence Center

  • 4 pages
  • For Official Use Only
  • July 2011

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In April 2011, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reported up to 82 percent of all cocaine seized in the United States contained levamisole, a veterinary drug used to de-worm livestock. Law enforcement and public health officials in the United States are warning of serious public health consequences for drug users related to contaminated cocaine use.

Background

  • Levamisole is an inexpensive anti-parasitic (de-worming) agent used in veterinary medicine currently approved for cattle, sheep, and swine
  • It has been increasingly used as a cutting agent in cocaine instead of traditional fillers such as baking soda; DEA agents have detected it in cocaine seized in the United States since 2003
  • Recently, serious skin infection cases related to cocaine use have been seen in Los Angeles, New York, Denver, and San Francisco
  • Studies report that levamisole is known to increase dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers, leading experts to believe that it is added to cocaine to further enhance or prolong the user’s “high”
  • It can be added at anytime during the production, transport, or shipment of cocaine

Health Effects:

  • It appears that some people, especially women, are more susceptible to the effects of levamisole. Users of cocaine contaminated with levamisole may experience the following health effects:
  • Decrease of white blood cells (“agranulocytosis”), which causes a greater risk of infection
  • Crusty, purplish areas of dead skin—particularly around the ears—that are extremely painful (“purpura”)
  • Worsening or persistent sore throat and fever
  • Swollen glands (“lymphadenopathy”)
  • Painful sores (especially in the areas of the mouth and anus)
  • White fungal coating of the mouth, tongue, or throat (“thrush”)
  • Constriction of the blood vessels (“vasoconstriction”)
  • Pneumonia

Implications:

  • The increasing presence of levamisole in cocaine is a development that is important to both law enforcement and public health professionals:
  • Detection of levamisole in a patient is challenging because specific testing is necessary, but not routinely available
  • Levamisole’s half-life—the amount of time it takes for drug concentration to reach half of its original concentration—is only 5.6 hours
  • Large amounts of levamisole being diverted away from standard veterinary medicine could potentially lead to the identification of major cocaine trafficking organizations

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