Cocaine users at risk of ‘HIV-type’ symptoms

Drug dealers are maximising their profits by cutting cocaine with levamisole, a drug which is used to deworm animals.

Doctors and drugs experts are extremely concerned about this emerging problem as levamisole causes a variety of unpleasant and dangerous symptoms.

Levamisole poisoning can:

  • Cause human flesh to decay
  • Skin lesions
  • Discolouration of the skin
  • Rupture of the blood cells rupture -  the ears, nose and fingers are especially vulnerable
  • HIV-type symptoms of fatigue and decreased immunity to diseases
  • Death – it’s estimated that 10 per cent of those suffering from levamisole poisoning will die from severe infections

This comes in the wake of deaths from cocaine and heroin use increasing, due to a high level of purity.

However, this new trend for criminals and drug dealers to cut cocaine with levamisole is unlikely to improve the safety for drug users.

It will certainly elevate the risk of other health issues for those who use cocaine.

Last year, Penny Hargreaves, a 21 year old nurse died snorting lines of cocaine at her home without knowing it had been mixed with Levamisole

The coroner Michael Singleton commented on his concern that those who take drugs seem ignorant as to the dangers of taking substances – including the fact that they have no way of actually realising what they are ingesting:

It is my fervent hope that out of this tragedy, those other people that were there reflect upon this and think "there but for the grace of god", go forward and learn from it because I do not want to be sat here at another inquest into the death of a young person who has got everything to live for because of an act of crass stupidity.

A case-study in the British Medical Journal described how a woman with sores and unexplained aches and pains was found after tests to have taken cocaine contaminated with levamisole.

US-based dermatologist Dr Noah Craft witnessed a wave of levamisole poisoning due to contaminated cocaine in 2011. At the time he said: "It's a little bit like having HIV."
Dr Bruce Trathen of Serena House, a clinic for medical detox from drugs and alcohol points out that although levamisole-contamination is another concern for those who use cocaine, even the ‘pure stuff’ is extremely dangerous.

He says: “Chronic, frequent use of stimulant drugs may lead to the development of a chronic paranoid perspective or fully formed psychosis that is difficult to differentiate from schizophrenia.

Dr Trathen adds:

Medical complications of stimulant intoxication may be serious and life-threatening; cocaine intoxication is the commonest cause of myocardial infarction in young males presenting to A&E departments. 

Last year the Office for National Statistics released figures indicating that the death rates from cocaine and heroin were at an all-time high.

A total of 3,674 people died of drugs poisoning in 2015, the highest number since records began.

However, with the right medical expertise and skilled and caring therapy from experienced therapists, it is possible to come off cocaine.

Des Hill, a therapist at Serena House, says: “I came to the field of addiction over twenty years ago due to my own personal experience of cocaine addiction. I am proof that it is possible to come off cocaine and lead a happy, healthy and fulfilling life.”

Dr Bruce Trathen treats patients for addictions - including cocaine and alcohol addiction - at Serena House, a residential detox clinic in the heart of London.

A fluid that transports oxygen and other substances through the body, made up of blood cells suspended in a liquid. Full medical glossary
The basic unit of all living organisms. Full medical glossary
A disease of long duration generally involving slow changes. Full medical glossary
A narcotic drug extracted from coca leaves. Full medical glossary
A condition that is linked to, or is a consequence of, another disease or procedure. Full medical glossary
The specialisation of cells or tissues for a specific function. Full medical glossary
One of the three main food constituents (with carbohydrate and protein), and the main form in which energy is stored in the body. Full medical glossary
The abbreviation for human immunodeficiency virus, which is the cause of AIDS. Full medical glossary
Death of a piece of tissue owing to obstruction of its blood supply. Full medical glossary
Death of a portion of tissue due to inadequate blood supply Full medical glossary
Invasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites. Full medical glossary
A general term for a condition resulting from poisoning. Full medical glossary
a general term to cover any abnormality such as a wound, infection, abscess or tumour. Full medical glossary
A severe mental disorder in which the person affected loses contact with reality. Full medical glossary
A psychiatric disorder featuring psychosis along with disordered speech, thinking and behaviour and often accompanied by hallucinations and withdrawal from ordinary social interactions. Full medical glossary