Health Advisory: Contaminated Cocaine

Health Advisory: Contaminated Cocaine

Jun 05, 2009

One local death and another three serious illnesses may be linked to a nationwide cocaine contamination problem. Patients with this condition elsewhere in the country, including Seattle, had life threatening infections requiring hospitalization and intensive care unit admittance, due to their use of cocaine contaminated with a drug used to treat animals. Called levamisole, the contaminant critically reduces a person's white blood cells, causing a condition known as agranulocytosis, where the affected person loses ability to fight infection. The Spokane Regional Health District is taking steps to warn users of this potentially fatal mixture, while investigation of illnesses possibly caused by cocaine contaminated with levamisole is on-going. The Health District is working with a research doctor to identify local cases.

"We want anyone who uses cocaine to know about this added danger," said Dr. Joel McCullough, Health Officer for the Spokane Regional Health District. "Because people cannot tell if their cocaine or crack is contaminated just by looking at it, they need to know that they now face an even bigger risk when they use dangerous drugs like cocaine."

Levamisole is likely added to the cocaine product at the point of production outside of the United States. It can seriously reduce a persons white blood cells, suppressing immune function and the body's ability to fight off even minor infections. People who snort, smoke, or inject crack or powder cocaine contaminated by levamisole can develop overwhelming, rapidly developing, and life threatening infections.

Symptoms in persons using cocaine contaminated with levamisole include:

  • High fever, chills or
  • 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

Persons using cocaine and experiencing any of these symptoms should seek medical attention at an emergency room or other medical provider immediately. Cocaine causes overdose and death every year in Spokane.

People who use cocaine or crack can call or visit Lynn at the Health District's Outreach Center for more information on this issue or for drug treatment options:

Outreach Center (Needle Exchange)
1101 West College Avenue (Use SW entrance)
Mon., Tues., Thur., Fri. | Open 3:00 - 5:00 pm
Wednesday | Open 3:00 - 7:00 pm
(509) 324-1686 or cell (509) 879-3777 (may call or text)