SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5) — The so-called addiction of the 1980s is again thriving three decades later. But modern day cocaine is packing more than an instant high; it’s eating the skin of some users alive.

“The body is eating away at itself. It’s actually from the inside out,” said Dr. Barry Zevin, internist and addiction specialist at San Francisco’s Tom Waddell Health Center.

Over the past year and a half, Zevin said, “I’ve seen three or four patients where I said this is definitely a case.”

The cases include an ear, a nose tip, an arm, even on the chest, turning purple then black where the skin and flesh suddenly died. But Zevin said he’s seen more people with skin ulcers and low white blood cell counts.

Dr. Noah Craft of UCLA-based LA BioMed has called it a potential public health epidemic.

“Unfortunately it goes hand in hand with destruction of the bone marrow,” Craft said. “If you don’t know your bone barrow is being destroyed, then you have serious infections and die.”

The tainted cocaine is being cut with a banned drug called Levamisole, which is used to de-worm livestock.

Dr. Randy Syd of the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic said even though the drug was banned for human use, it’s still widely available to veterinarians, both here and in South America where much of the West Coast cocaine is coming from. Levamisole looks just like cocaine, and it doesn’t matter if it’s snorted or smoked.

“It depresses the immune system. It decreases the person’s ability to fight off infections. It’s not unlike HIV,” Syd said.

The rare rotting skin cases were first diagnosed at San Francisco General Hospital two years ago.

Syd said the complications don’t discriminate between recreational and habitual users. Doctors at the Waddell center have posted warnings to the staff, bracing for a rise in cases of rotting flesh.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

Comments (10)
  1. SFTox says:

    Actually, the “first” cases were diagnosed in Canada about 4 years ago. A cluster of patients with these necrotic skin lesions in Canada led to the first laboratory confirmation of cocaine contamination with levamisole roughly 4 years ago, which was published in MMWR.

    1. aldestrawk says:

      True, but there is no claim in this article that the cases in the study that Dr.Craft was a member of were the first ones confirmed due to tainted cocaine. More concerning to me is Dr Syd’s comment; “complications don’t discriminate between recreational and habitual users”. This misrepresents the danger from the effects due to Levamisole. There are variations in individuals responses to Levamisole and it is not fully understood why but there are probably many factors. Clearly though, the major factor is how often one uses tainted cocaine. Maybe I am missing the context of that statement in the article, but it appears to me to be more fear mongering than informing.

  2. It is what it Is says:

    Snort away then….Fool!

  3. adam says:

    Yay….about time. Now they will think twice about doing drugs!

  4. Viela Recordð says:

    Hey guys,

  5. Tik Moo Ralles says:

    Wow, thats some pretty messed up stuff. Scary.

  6. bart simpson says:

    Yay! Dope is for DOPES and I will take any and all advantage of any DOPER! Even you moronic weed smokers!

  7. Dr. Death says:

    The mexicans can legally buy levamisole anywhere south of the US border. They use it to cut the drug and increase their profits. The mexicans are killing more and more people. Wake up America!

  8. Bonghit says:

    If pot is legal this wont happend.

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