A New Side Effect of Cocaine Use: Rotting Skin

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Here’s news that we’re sure most of you didn’t know: cocaine is bad for you. But beside making you edgy and skittish, with a propensity toward emotional highs and lows, and ultimately turning you into the next star of Intervention, scientists have found yet another drawback to snorting, shooting, sniffing, smoking or free-basing: it rots your skin.

A report published in the Annals of Internal Medicine says doctors at the University of Rochester Medical Center have discovered that cocaine can contain agents that contribute to low white cell count or dying skin tissue, giving one the appearance of wearing rotting flesh.

In the journal, doctors discussed cases where women they treated who had a history of cocaine use also tended to have discolorations on various body parts like their cheeks, buttocks, thighs and earlobes. Those symptoms are consistent with use of the medication levamisole, which is used by veterinarians for de-worming farm animals. But it is also used in the illicit drug industry to stretch cocaine, possibly for more profit or a more potent high.

“Almost 80 percent of the cocaine coming into this country has levamisole mixed in,” said Dr. Ghinwa Dumyati, a University of Rochester medical professor and epidemiologist for the Monroe County Health Department in upstate New York, noting the medication can cause an inflammation inside the small blood vessels. “The result can be the death of the epidermis or outer layer of skin.”

The good news is that although the affliction to the users’ skin is treatable, there’s an even better way of stopping cocaine from harming your skin: “if you stop using cocaine, most of the cases would get better,” Dumyati said.