Nearly two-thirds of cocaine is cut with a substance that can rot human flesh and 80 per cent contains a chemical linked to bladder cancer, a new study has found.
Levamisole is supposed to be used by farmers to purge their livestock of parasitic worms. But a study by the addiction treatment website DrugAbuse.com found that it was present in 65 per cent of street cocaine.
This is despite the fact that if ingested in sufficient quantities, levamisole can cause ulcerating skin lesions and rot the skin.
Although other testing has suggested levamisole is in street cocaine at levels too low to affect most users, among some unlucky addicts it can rot the skin and also cause a serious drop in their “disease fighting” white blood cell count, leaving them open to infections – a condition described by one US dermatologist as “a little bit like having HIV.”
“They may be walking around like a time bomb,” said Dr Noah Craft, of the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute. “About 10 per cent of these patients will die from severe infections.”
Levamisole, though, was only the second most common cocaine cutting agent. The study found that the most common – occurring in four in five samples – was phenacetin, a painkiller banned in the US since 1983 because of its links to cancer and kidney damage.
One scientific study of people abusing phenacetin found they were four times more likely to develop bladder cancer than non-users.
The DrugAbuse.com study – Russian Roulette: the hidden dangers of cutting agents in cocaine and heroin – referred to samples of street drugs found in the US, but the incidence of cutting agents in the UK is thought to be roughly similar, or even higher.
In 2014 the Liberal Democrat Crime Prevention Minister Norman Baker said around 80 per cent of UK cocaine contained levamisole and warned that people taking illegal drugs without knowing what they had been cut with were “playing Russian Roulette with their lives”.
The DrugAbuse.com study also comes after drug testing at UK festivals this summer found that dealers were duping users into consuming ground up cement or crushed anti-malarial pills with their Class A drugs – which led some to suggest that legalising and properly regulating drugs instead of leaving the market to organised crime might reduce the harm they caused.
After analysing what cutting agents were used in heroin and cocaine, the DrugAbuse.com study concluded: “There is no ‘safe’ street drug and cutting agents are only adding to the danger.”
The researchers found an increasing use of cutting agents, which are used to dilute drugs doses so dealers can sell more hits and make more money, and in some cases to give an added “kick” to the already potent Class A drug.
In 1987, the study found, cocaine was 80 per cent pure, whereas average purity is now around 52 per cent.
Heroin purity has fallen from 58 per cent in 1993 to about 35 per cent now.
World's 10 most deadly street drugs
World's 10 most deadly street drugs
1/10 10. Purple Drank
One of the more unusual drugs around at the moment, purple drank was popularised in 90s hip hop culture, with the likes of Jay Z and Big Moe all mentioning it in their songs. It is a concoction of soda water, sweets and cold medicine, and is drunk due to cold medicines high codeine content, which gives the user a woozy feeling. However it can also cause respiratory issues and heart failure
2/10 9. Scopolamine
Scopolamine is a derivative from the nightshade plant found in the Northern Indian region of South America (Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela). It is generally found in a refined powder form, but can also be found as a tea. The drug is more often used by criminals due its high toxicity level (one gram is believed to be able to kill up to 20 people) making it a strong poison. However, it is also believed that the drug is blown into the faces of unexpecting victims, later causing them to lose all sense of self-control and becoming incapable of forming memories during the time they are under the influence of the drug. This tactic has reportedly been used by gangs in Colombia where there have been reports of people using scopolamine as way to convince victims to rob their own homes
3/10 8. Heroin
Founded in 1874 by C. R. Alder Wright, heroin is one of the world’s oldest drugs. Originally it was prescribed as a strong painkiller used to treat chronic pain and physical trauma. However in 1971 it was made illegal under the Misuse of Drugs Act. Since then it has become one of the most destructive substances in the world, tearing apart communities and destroying families. The side effects of heroin include inflammation of the gums, cold sweats, a weak immune system, muscular weakness and insomnia. It can also damage blood vessels which can later cause gangrene if left untreated
4/10 7. Crack cocaine
Crack cocaine first came about in the 1980’s when cocaine became a widespread commodity within the drug trafficking world. Originally cocaine would have attracted a high price tag due to its rarity and difficulty to produce, but once it became more widespread the price dropped significantly. This resulted in drug dealers forming their cocaine into rock like shapes by using baking soda as a way of distilling the powder down into rock form. People were doing this because it allowed for them to sell cocaine at a lower quantity and to a higher number of people. The side effects of crack cocaine include liver, kidney and lung damage, as well as permanent damage to blood vessels, which can often lead to heart attacks, strokes, and ultimately death
5/10 6. Crystal meth
Not just famous because of a certain Walter H White, but also because it is one of the most destructive drugs in the world. First developed in 1887, it became widely used during the Second World War when both sides would give it to their troops to keep them awake. It is also believed that the Japanese gave it to their Kamikaze pilots before their suicide missions. After the war crystal meth was prescribed as a diet aid and remained legal until the 1970s. Since then it has fallen into the hands of Mexican gangs and has become a worldwide phenomenon, spreading throughout Europe and Asia. The effects of crystal meth are devastating. In the short-term users will become sleep depraved and anxious, and in the long-term it will cause their flesh to sink, as well as brain damage and damage of the blood vessels
6/10 5. AH-7921
AH-7921 is a synthetic opioid that was previously available to legally purchase online from vendors until it became a Class A in January 2015. The drug is believed to have 80% of the potency of morphine, and became known as the ‘legal heroin’. While there has only been one death related to AH-7921 in the UK, it is believed to be highly dangerous and capable of causing respiratory arrest and gangrene
7/10 4. Flakka
Flakka is a stimulant with a similar chemical make-up to the amphetamine-like drug found in bath salts. While the drug was originally marketed as a legal high alternative to ecstasy, the effects are significantly different. The user will feel an elevated heart rate, enhanced emotions, and, if enough is digested, strong hallucinations. The drug can cause permanent psychological damage due to it affecting the mood regulating neurons that keep the mind’s serotonin and dopamine in check, as well as possibly causing heart failure
8/10 3. Bath salts
Bath salts are a synthetic crystalline drug that is prevalent in the US. While they may sound harmless, they certainly aren’t the sort of salts you drop into a warm bath when having a relaxing night in, they are most similar to mephedrone, and have recently been featured throughout social media due to the ‘zombification’ of its. The name comes from the fact that the drug was originally sold online, and widely disguised as bath salts. The side effects include unusual psychiatric behaviour, psychosis, panic attacks and violent behaviour, as well as the possibility of a heart attack and an elevated body temperature
9/10 2. Whoonga
Whoonga is a combination of antiretroviral drugs, used to treat HIV, and various cutting agents such as detergents and poisons. The drug is widely available in South Africa due to South Africa’s high rate of HIV sufferers, and is believed to be popular due to how cheap it is when compared to prescribed antiretrovirals. The drug is highly addictive and can cause major health issues such as internal bleeding, stomach ulcers and ultimately death
10/10 1. Krokodil
Krokodil is Russia’s secret addiction. It is believed that over one million Russians are addicted to the drug. Users of krokodil are attracted to the drug due to its low price; it is sold at £20 a gram while heroin is sold for £60. However, krokodil is considered more dangerous than heroin because it is often homemade, with ingredients including painkillers, iodine, lighter fluid and industrial cleaning agents. This chemical make-up makes the drug highly dangerous and likely to cause gangrene, and eventually rotting of the flesh
This is about the same purity level as during the heroin epidemic of the 1980s, but the study suggests that cutting agents found in heroin today are far more dangerous than those used 30 years ago.
One increasingly common cutting agent, fentanyl, has been described by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention as “80 times as potent as morphine and hundreds of times more potent than heroin” – an impression also borne out by street names such as “Drop Dead” and “Serial Killer”.
It has been linked to a wave of fatalities among American heroin users and also to the death in April of the pop star Prince. There have been reports that the singer took fentanyl pills from a bottle that had been incorrectly labelled as containing much weaker painkillers.
In recent years fentanyl has been illegally manufactured in backstreet labs in Mexico and China. Some users deliberately take heroin laced with fentanyl to get a more powerful high, but increasingly it is being used to cut the Class A drug and sold to addicts without them knowing what they are really taking.
Most deaths so far have occurred in America, but in the UK, Thaker Hafid, 37, a father of three from Cardiff, was last year found to have died from taking a variant of the drug known as acetyl fentanyl after ordering it online from China as a so-called “legal high”.
And there is evidence that the cutting agents used by dealers may be getting even more dangerous. In the last few weeks, US officials have revealed that overdoses are now being caused by heroin laced with carfentanil, which is supposed to be used by vets as a sedative for elephants and other very large animals.
It is 100 times stronger than fentanyl and is the most potent commercially available opioid in the world.