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County health officer warns of contaminated street drugs

San Juan County Health Officer Dr. Frank James has alerted the county’s health care providers that at least three individuals have reported to local hospitals with a life-threatening illness likely caused by the use of cocaine contaminated with a drug generally used to treat animals.

According to James, the drug levamisole — now most often dispensed for use on animals — was previously used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and colon cancer in humans. He said the contamination of some cocaine has previously been reported across the United States, Canada and elsewhere, and that the drug is believed to be added to cocaine during production outside the United States.

People who snort, smoke, or inject crack or powder cocaine contaminated by levamisole can develop overwhelming, rapidly developing, and life-threatening infections, James said in a press release issued by the county's public information office. He reported that a patient with this condition in Seattle required hospitalization and treatment in intensive care.

Symptoms in persons using cocaine contaminated with levamisole include:

— High fever, chills or weakness
— Swollen glands
— Infections or sores in the mouth, skin, or anus
— White coating of the mouth, tongue or throat (thrush)

— Pneumonia, which includes cough, fever, and shortness of breath

James is asking health providers and others who come in contact with persons who use cocaine or crack cocaine to make them aware of this potentially fatal complication. He also urged health professionals to consider the possibility of a levamisole-associated condition called agranulocytosis in diagnosing persons with these symptoms described above.

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