Most cocaine coming into the U.S. has been diluted with a veterinary drug that is used to deworm horses and other animals but can cause severe illness and death in humans, public health experts tell the San Francisco Chronicle. So far, eight cases of illness caused by the drug levamisole have been identified in San Francisco, one of a handful of cities where pockets of sickness caused by the drug have been found.
Levamisole can significantly reduce the number of white blood cells in the body, a condition called agranulocytosis. Symptoms include fever, swollen glands, painful sores in the mouth and anus, and an infection that won’t go away. Doctors and lab specialists at S.F. General Hospital are leading state and national efforts to diagnose and treat patients. “The big question we have right now is, if 90 percent of cocaine users in San Francisco are positive for levamisole and are being exposed to this compound, then why aren’t 90 percent of them in the emergency room with these side effects?” said Kara Lynch, associate chief of the chemistry and toxicology lab at S.F. General.