20 dead in Argentina after taking toxic cocaine
At least 20 people have died and 74 others have been hospitalized in a Buenos Aires suburb after consuming cocaine cut with a toxic substance, possibly opioids, Argentine authorities said on Wednesday.
Officials said they were working quickly to determine what the cocaine was mixed with, but warned those who purchased the drug in the past 24 hours to get rid of it.
Sergio Berni, the head of security for the province of Buenos Aires, told Telefe television that authorities were trying to locate the toxic substance “to remove it from circulation”.
“There’s a key ingredient that attacks the central nervous system,” Berni said.
About 10 people were arrested after police raided a house in the poor neighborhood of Tres de Febrero where they believe the cocaine was sold.
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Packages of cocaine similar to those described by the victims’ families were seized. The drugs were transported to a laboratory in La Plata, the capital of the province of Buenos Aires, for analysis.
Authorities issued an urgent warning early Wednesday after three separate hospitals reported multiple deaths and serious cases of poisoning.
Several of those treated told doctors they had taken cocaine together.
Beatriz Mercado told AFP she found her 31-year-old son, one of the victims, lying face down on the kitchen floor.
“He was hardly breathing, his eyes were rolling back,” she said. She took him to the hospital, where he had been on life support since Wednesday evening.
“I hope in God, nothing else. A miracle.”
An initial death toll of 12 and 50 hospitalizations has continued to rise – with victims admitted to eight different hospitals, a spokesman for the government of the province of Buenos Aires told AFP.
Earlier reports indicated that the victims suffered from seizures and sudden heart attacks.
Health authorities said at least four of the victims were men between the ages of 32 and 45.
Cutting with a harmful substance
Berni’s office said late in the day that emergency services were reporting new patients in “critical condition” being brought to hospitals.
He said: “Every dealer who buys cocaine cuts it. Some do this with non-toxic substances like starch. Others put hallucinogens in it, and if there’s no control, this stuff happens.
On this occasion, however, the drugs were cut with a noxious substance as part of a “war between drug dealers”, Berni added.
The public prosecutor of San Martin, Marcelo Lapargo, told Radio Miter that the main concern of the authorities “is to be able to communicate, so that those who are in possession of this poison know that they must not consume it”.
Investigators fear the death toll will rise, with some people who bought cocaine unable to get to a treatment center in time.
Lapargo said this case was “absolutely exceptional”. He added that the idea of a battle between drug dealers was “guesswork” at this stage.
Police briefly clashed with residents of part of Tres de Febrero who were protesting the arrest of local youths during the drug raid.