Monday, June 27, 2011

Don't do cocaine or your ears will fall off

Posted By on 06.27.11 at 06:21 PM

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  • Image by Grisei via Flickr/Creative Commons Attribution 2.0
Over the past few days, various news outlets have reported on how almost all of America's (and increasingly the world's) cocaine now contains levamisole—a veterinary drug that sometimes causes people's ears, noses, and cheeks to turn purple and black and rot away. Not everyone who does cocaine experiences flesh-eating issues—the technical term is necrosis—but there's really no way to predict who will develop them, and who won't. So you have to either do some cocaine and wait and see what happens, or choose a more sensible and cheaper option, like avoiding cocaine altogether.

Last week's news reports—inspired in part by a new Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology study detailing the conditions of six affected patients in L.A.—mainly focused on cases of LevamiCoke-related necrosis in New York City and Los Angeles. But what about Chicago cocaine? Is it also spiked with this stuff, or what? (Or what?)

Last week I contacted Rush University Medical Center, the University of Chicago Medical Center, and Northwestern Memorial hospital to ask this very question. The spokesfolks at Rush and U of C said they hadn't documented any cases of levamisole-fueled necrosis, which made me think for a moment that perhaps Chicago was special, or that our local cokeheads were possibly being protected by drug-abuse angels. But then I called Northwestern and found out that not only have folks presented at their ER with the dreaded purple and black spots, but the hospital is the home-base for Dr. Joaquin Brieva—an associate professor of dermatology who's been collaborating with other dermatologists across the country on a research paper about levamisole. When rotting-flesh people started popping up at Northwestern last year, Brieva called the Drug Enforcement Administration and found out that, nowadays, most cocaine contains levamisole—more than 80 percent, according to the agency's most recent statistics. He was already aware of the possibility that levamisole was at play based on his own research on the drug, and that done by colleagues scattered around the globe.

Why would levamisoled folks only present at Northwestern hospital, and not at any other hospitals in town? Brieva says they actually might have but failed to disclose their cocaine use, or were misdiagnosed. "We suspect that people are getting sick and not reporting it," he says. Also, levamisole-lacing has become widespread only recently, as the Seattle alt-weekly The Stranger reported last year; lack of awareness remains an issue.

What happens to cocaine users who develop necrosis? Brieva says they can be treated with a special stimulant that spurs white blood cell production, and that skin healing can occur. But "unsightly scars" are a typical result, and permanent loss of body parts also happens.

So, uh, maybe don't do cocaine anymore, if you do cocaine. You need your ears to put your glasses on, and your nose to complete your face. Do a different drug.

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