The Mystery of the Tainted Cocaine

There is something strange going on with the cocaine coming in to the United States.

Typically, additional ingredients like sugar, baking powder or laxatives are added to pure cocaine, to dilute the potency and increase quantity. Known as “cutting agents,” it’s filler – stuff to make it appear as though there’s more drug than is actually there.

Recently, amounts of levamisole – typically used by farmers to de-worm cows and pigs – have been found. This began about 5 years ago, and has gotten increasingly more prevalent.

The DEA first reported seeing significant amounts of levamisole-tainted cocaine in 2005, with 331 samples testing positive. Then the numbers spiked: The DEA found 6,061 tainted samples in 2008 and 7,427 in 2009. One DEA brief from 2010 reports that between October 2007 and October 2009, the percentage of seized cocaine bricks containing levamisole jumped from 2 percent to 71 percent.

The danger with levamisole is that it can potentially cause what’s known as agranulocytosis – a huge crash in the body’s immune system. It affects different people in different ways: some folks might experience infections or diarrhea, others might never know they have it and get better on their own. Others never recover, and die.

It’s strange that drug suppliers would choose levamisole. It’s more expensive than other cutting agents, and it also increases the chance that their customers will get sick/die.

On top of that, studies seem to suggest that levamisole is being added in at the source of drug production, before it arrives in the US. Which is really puzzling, as it increases the amount of cocaine transported (and as a result, increases the risk of being caught).

There are two articles (part of a series). The first is The Mystery of the Tainted Cocaine, and the second is a follow-up: The Cocaine Trade. Both are by Brendan Kiley, and both are incredibly well written.

[via MetaFilter, CC Photo via Nick Leonard]

The White Lobster: Found Cocaine and the Economy of Bluefields, Nicaragua
Going Under: Fascinating Article on Drug Addiction Among Anesthesiologists
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This Post Has 1 Comment

  1. I just read about a new drug called whoonga. It’s popular in South Africa. Ingredients: strychnine, powdered detergent, marijuana, and crushed-up anti-retrovirals. That’s right, rat poison, detergent, anti-HIV medication, all wrapped up into a doobie. Apparently it’s super-addictive. People crave more after one use. People are mugging HIV-positive people when they come out of clinics and stealing their meds. Others are saying they want to become HIV-positive so they can get free anti-retrovirals and do the whoonga more cheaply. Bad, bad stuff.

    juliet Reply

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