Office of Alcoholism and
Substance Abuse Services


Health Advisory - Contaminated Cocaine

It has been reported by the Departments of Health in New Mexico, Canada and Delaware that there have been several cases of agranulocytosis (uh-gran-yuh-loh-sahy-toh-sis) following the use of cocaine. This condition leaves patients unable to fight off infections.

The unusual condition can be fatal because it compromises the immune system. It appears that the condition could be related to using cocaine that is contaminated with levamisole. The U.S. Department of Justice reported that between January and April 2008, levamisole found in tested cocaine had increased from 9 percent to 19 percent.

Levamisole is a cancer (antineoplastic) medication used in cancer treatment. It is also widely used in veterinary medicine in the de-worming of many animals. Serious side effects have been reported with the use of levamisole including: allergic reactions (difficulty breathing; closing of the throat; swelling of the lips, tongue, or face; or hives); decreased bone marrow function or blood problems (fever or chills; or signs of infection); nervous system problems (confusion or loss of consciousness, extreme fatigue, memory loss, muscle weakness, numbness or tingling; seizure, speech disturbances); and others.

People who use cocaine and experience one or more of the following should see a doctor and inform them of their cocaine use:

  • Persistent or recurrent fever and chills
  • Worsening swollen glands
  • Painful sores in the mouth or around the anus
  • Frequent, persistent or worsening skin infections
  • Pneumonia
  • Worsening or persistent sore throat
  • Thrush - a white coating of the mouth, tongue, or throat
  • Other unusual infection