created over 3 years ago | Tagged:
Cocaine abusers -- already at risk for an abnormal heartbeat, blood pressure problems, hallucinations, convulsions and stroke -- can add another potential health complication to the list: rotting flesh. "If you are a user of cocaine, you should be aware that some of the cocaine is not clean and can have other agents that can cause you to have a low white-cell count or skin tissue death," said Dr. Ghinwa Dumyati, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Rochester and an epidemiologist for the Monroe County Health Department in New York.
In a report in the June 1 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine, Dumyati and doctors from the University of Rochester Medical Center discuss two cases involving women with a history of cocaine use who came to the hospital for help when they noticed purplish plaques on their cheeks, earlobes, legs, thighs and buttocks. Their profiles were typical of toxicity with levamisole, the doctors reported. The medication is a veterinary anti-worming agent, approved for use in cattle, sheep and pigs. It was once used to treat cancer, autoimmune diseases and kidney problems in humans, Dumyati said. It's no longer approved for use in people in the United States, she said, because of adverse side effects.
In the new report, the doctors concluded, based on the women's symptoms, that cocaine laced with levamisole cannot only cause problems with white blood cells -- a problem previously reported -- but also death of the skin's outer layer. They said that physicians should suspect cocaine abuse when they see patients with skin lesions caused by tissue death. "The drug may induce an immunological reaction producing inflammation or vasculitis, an inflammation inside the small blood vessels," Dumyati said in explaining the link to tissue death. "The result can be the death of the epidermis or outer layer of skin."
"The increase [in cocaine containing levamisole] has been really rapid," she said. Until a few years ago, she said, probably less than 10 percent of cocaine supplies had it. Now, experts suspect that 80 percent do. Dumyati said that the skin problem is treatable, but "if you stop using cocaine, most of the cases would get better."