New Especially Bad Heroin Can Give You an Overdose—or Anthrax

By Andrew Moseman | December 18, 2009 3:35 pm

cocaineCocaine and heroin are generally acknowledged to be fairly dangerous chemicals to put in your body. And that’s not even considering that cocaine could well be tainted with opossum de-worming medication and heroin may be laced with anthrax—that’s right, anthrax.

Yes, it’s been a week of dangerous and deadly adulterants showing up in recreational drugs. DISCOVER actually highlighted the story of the tainted cocaine back in September, when the Drug Enforcement Agency first announced that they had found cocaine tainted with levamisole. The drug is used to treat cancer in humans and as a de-worming agent in livestock, but can have dire effects on the immune system. Just how it got into cocaine nobody knows for sure, though scientists think it may spark a more intense high for users.

Today, the Centers for Disease Control has published a report documenting levamisole in cocaine in four states; the organization found 21 cases and one death. The DEA suggests that nearly 70 percent of cocaine coming into the U.S. contains levamisole, and the CDC acknowledges that there were probably many more illnesses in the states it studied that went unreported, as tends to happen with highly illegal drugs.

Meanwhile, in Scotland, at least two heroin users appear to have died from anthrax. Again, the authorities are trying to get the message out to heroin users through the news media, though they’re not sure exactly how the problem came to be. From The Guardian:

“It’s highly conceivable that it could have been contaminated either from the source in the [heroin's] origin country or it could have been contaminated as a consequence of subsequent cutting when it arrived in this country,” said Dr Colin Ramsay, of Health Protection Scotland.

Related Content:
80beats: One-Third of U.S. Cocaine Tainted with Dangerous Livestock Drug
80beats: Honeybees Get High on Cocaine and Dance, Dance, Dance
80beats: To Help Heroin Addicts, Give Them… Prescription Heroin?

Image: iStockphoto

  • Danlantic

    Crossreference the classic “Eleven Blue Men and Other Narratives of Medical Detection” (1953) by Berton Roueche, specifically the chapter “A pinch of dust”.

    In that the epidemiologists were wondering why have a dozen people in a flophouse all got tetanus. There were common factors of location, race — and heroin addiction. The dealer in the place had gotten a new stash and wanted to cut it using whatever was available including dust from the floor.

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