State health officials say at least two people have been sickened in recent weeks in Seattle by cocaine tainted with a chemical used to deworm livestock, which is now showing up in more than two-thirds of cocaine seized by authorities across the country.
Last year, at least 10 people were sickened in King County from ingesting Levamisole-tainted cocaine.
Levamisole-tainted cocaine caused patients’ white blood cell counts dropped to zero within hours of ingesting the drug, making them particularly vulnerable to infection.
State health officials don’t conduct investigations into where the cocaine is coming from, and don’t yet know why Levamisole is showing up in cocaine—it could simply be used as a bulking agent, although there are theories that it may provide an added sense of euphoria—but they do say that the toxic drug is rapidly contaminating the supply chain.
Last year, 30 percent of cocaine seized and tested by the Drug Enforcement Administration contained Levamisole. Now, according to Myduc Ta of the Washington State Department of Health (WSDOH), that number has risen to 69 percent. Ta did not have figures on contamination rates specific to Washington and, due to privacy concerns, Ta declined to provide information about the two people recently treated at Harborview for agranulocytosis. The 10 men and women treated last year were all in their 40s and 50s.
While it’s getting harder and harder to find untainted cocaine, not every cocaine user has proven susceptible to Levamisole poisoning.
According to Juliet VanEenwyk, also of the WSDOH, only between three and ten percent of cocaine users develop reactions to the contaminated coke. However, with an increasingly contaminated supply chain, VanEenwyk says taking the drug is like playing “Russian roulette” as there’s “more of a certainty you’re going to get some type of contaimated cocaine.”