WASHINGTON, D.C. (WUSA) -- Cocaine use has always been dangerous and illegal, but now it could rot your skin. At least a dozen people have developed a flesh-eating disease after using coke laced with a drug that's typically used on livestock. For now, the cases are confined to New York and Los Angeles, but doctors fear this could become a nationwide epidemic.
A study in this month's Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology profiles six cocaine users who have developed patches of rotting flesh on their ears, nose, and in some cases, their entire body. The study concludes that it's caused by using cocaine that's been cut with the drug, Levamisole.
What's worse? The doctors who conducted the study "believe this case series may represent the tip of the iceberg as a looming public health problem caused by Levamisole."
Levamisole is a drug typically used by veterinarians to de-worm livestock. But the DEA says the amount of Levamisole in cocaine is shooting up at alarming rates.
In 2008, less than 10% of the cocaine tested in the U.S. contained Levamisole. Today, it's in 82% of the country's coke supply. DEA investigators say they "are confident that Colombian drug traffickers are adding it as part of the production process, possibly to enhance the effects of the cocaine."
Both cocaine and Levamisole do the same thing to our brains. They increase dopamine. So the theory is that these drug traffickers are trying to improve the high, while cutting down the production cost.
In theory, anyone who either smokes or inhales this tainted coke can develop the flesh-eating disease, but it typically affects people with weakened immune systems. It can be treated with steroids or blood thinners, but dead skin is dead skin and will likely leave a scar.