Two-thirds of cocaine in US is cut with veterinary deworming drug

"Cocaine's a hell of a drug, and even more so when laced with another drug that's commonly used to deworm opossums." DEA agents report that some 69% of cocaine seized en route to US market is cut with levamisole, a veterinary drug believed to weaken the human immune system. In other news, wait: people commonly deworm opossums? (PopSci via Instapundit)


  1. On the bright side, cocaine users should be pretty clear of intestinal worms. I like to see my glass half full.

  2. I have to hand it to the worms. No way you get me within 20 feet of one of those things.

    That said, I am from Texas and have heard more than once they they’s good eatin.

  3. I don’t want to get all puritan-y, but cocaine is an awful drug. No one should do it in the first place.

    It might be a bit premature to guess, but coke probably killed Brittany Murphy.

    1. Egg zachary. The DEA has zero credibility among any of their “target audience” as every other claim they’ve ever made has turned out to be an urban legend at best, and typically more of a blatant lie.

  4. You see statistics like this and you can think one of two things:
    1. Cocaine is a horrible drug that is dangerous and this is even more evidence why it should remain illegal.
    2. People are going to take cocaine regardless of its legal status or the amount of deworming agent in it, thus it makes much more sense to legalize and regulate cocaine to protect people.

    1. @skatanic:

      “1. Cocaine is a horrible drug that is dangerous and this is even more evidence why it should remain illegal.”

      I certainly agree with your first clause here, but I don’t see how you can argue that this is evidence for the second. I’m sure that a conjectural commercial variety of cocaine* would not be cut with dewormer. On the contrary, producers would probably compete on purity.

      * Are cocaine derivatives still used in dentistry as topic anaesthetics?

      1. @BouncyBouncy I think you’re thinking of Lidocaine, which is still widely used. But it’s a synthetic, not derivative of cocaine. Cocaine itself is still used as a local anesthetic for more severe mouth and throat ulcers in a few countries such as Australia and the UK (who both also continue to use heroin for palliative care patients with pain because it has fewer side effects than morphine) who haven’t let the recreational use of the drug distract them from the medical utility of the drug.

    2. Clearly it’s time for the government to start regulating possum-dewormer (or possibly possums).

      I mean, they’re keeping tabs on my consumption of Sudafed and surely that has been hugely successful, right? Otherwise they would have stopped doing it by now?

  5. I’d treat this with suspicion actually, we have no reason to believe the DEA… and there’s a difference between something being “spiked with something” than it being “cut with something”.

    Still, anybody who thinks that this is a reason for cocaine to remain illegal is an idiot. If it was wasn’t controlled by criminals then we could monitor its quality… and if/when people did become addicted, then they wouldn’t be under the thumbs of people who also deal in prostitution and violence etc.

    It isn’t the drug that’s ruining lives, it’s the illegality.

  6. Skatanic – I’ve got several family members who have had their lives destroyed by drugs (including cocaine for two of them), yet neither of your options occurred to me. My thought was just “People are cleverly stupid.”

    Forced to choose between the two, I’ll choose #1. Allowed to think logically, and I’ll choose neither. The third option is decriminalization. For instance, keep cocaine illegal, but regulate prescription cocaine to protect people. Thus the profit motive for cocaine smuggling is destroyed.

    On a related note, I have no problem with marijuana except for one side effect: in each instance of a family member ending up on coke or meth or both, they began by smoking pot. Just some anecdotal evidence when discussing drug policy. Reality is a lot more nuanced than the two sides you presented would have us believe.

    1. “in each instance of a family member ending up on coke or meth or both, they began by smoking pot”

      How do you know that was the beginning? Couldn’t pot be 2nd or 3rd or 4th on the list? After tobacco, alcohol, caffiene, etc.? Granted, it might be the beginning of illegal use, but that’s up to chance depending on which state or country they live in.

      1. “in each instance of a family member ending up on coke or meth or both, they began by smoking pot”

        And I bet 100% of those who use cocaine or amphetamines “began” by drinking their mother’s milk. Milk – the empirically proven gateway drug to everything. We should ban it immediately.

  7. What I always wonder about stories like this is “And why did they choose that particular oddball compound?”.

    I can’t imagine that veterinary drugs are the cheapest or easiest substances to obtain in quantity(obviously cheaper than cocaine; but more expensive than numerous other powdery white substances). Is there something about this particular compound that makes it good for the job? Does it look extra cocainish? Have the right texture? Not clump due to moisture? Render the mucous membranes more permeable for the cocaine that is present? Is there some first-line assay for cocaine concentration that this stuff fools(the way melamine works against common protein assays)?

    1. ftfa:

      “Cocaine achieves its psychoactive effects by increasing dopamine concentrations in the euphoric centers of the brain, and animal studies have found that levamisole also increases dopamine levels in these regions (5). We speculate that levamisole may potentiate the euphoric effects of cocaine by further increasing brain dopamine levels.”

      tbh, still sounds implausible.

  8. Levamisole is used as a dewormer, but… opossums? It is used to deworm livestock – sheep, cattle, pigs, etc., and can be used as a treatment for some kinds of cancer in humans. There are some people who either keep opossums or help injured ones who would use it, but it’s certainly not it’s primary use.

    I’m guessing some reporter found this link and stopped doing research:

    1. They’re gonna hafta stop calling the stuff Bolivian Marching Powder, and start calling it ‘Possum Colonic Powder.

  9. @Bouncy:

    I don’t think that point #2 was meant to suggest a drug free for all. Rather I believe that by regulating the legal use of the drug would have a more positive benefit. Certainly the government could mandate the maximum amount of drug per dose. Plus the government could require that the packages are clearly marked so that the user knows exactly how much drug they are taking as well as the content of any inactive compounds that the product contains. Plus sales could generate tax revenue to go toward drug education, prevention, and treatment, while at the same time being a huge blow to the financing of organized crime.

  10. I, like other posters here, can’t get past the deworm opossums bit. I’ve never heard of anyone keeping a possum as a pet. I’ve never heard of them being raised commercially for meat or fur or whatever. They aren’t endangered or anything. Maybe somewhere, somehow, a zookeeper at some point used this drug to deal with a parasite-infested marsupial, but really. It might not have happened all. It might not have happened because there was this copywriter at Popular Science who snorted up all the ‘possum wormin’ powder.

  11. Even if this suspect fed-sourced “fact” was correct (independent second source to corroborate?), so what? Is that supposed to put people who are already taking something that kills thousands of mostly fairly young people every year off taking it? What could it possibly do that’s worse than what coke is even /supposed/ to do, on the tin, let alone the unadvertised side-effects like, er, coronary infarct and sudden death?

  12. Flip a coin on it…

    A) DEA sends around a rumor in the hopes it will scare off drug users. Never worked on any of my friends I lost to hard drug use. They were going to do it anyway.

    B) Sounds like the people producing cocaine hate the people who use it. What better way to wage asymmetric war than to poison people who self-dose. Given the mucking around by the US government where this stuff originates, this might not be such a paranoid thought.

    But then, this is the DEA, so I’d take it with a grain of salt.

    1. it’s all a bit confusing, the CDC article also states:

      “Only trace amounts of levamisole have been detected in heroin, compared with an average concentration of approximately 10% detected in cocaine (DEA, unpublished data, 2009)”

      which is kinda different to a 69% figure for levasimole contamination during july 2009 border seizures. so ‘the majority of usa’ conclusion is stretching it a bit.

      anyways, thinking about it, maybe the canadian prof’s have it right with their dopamine hypothesis. the article is at

      (“Agranulocytosis After Consumption of Cocaine Adulterated With Levamisole” by Zhu/LeGatt/Turner)

  13. What ever happened to cutting Coke with baby laxatives? Those were the days.

    Legalize drugs and take the money out of the Narco thugs/terrorists hands I say.

  14. There is only one manufacturer of pharmaceutical grade cocaine in the US — Mallinckrodt. Incidentally, their entire supply of raw cocaine comes from the Stepan Company, which extracts the cocaine from coca leaves before sending them to Coca-Cola. True story.

  15. @#10 “On a related note, I have no problem with marijuana except for one side effect: in each instance of a family member ending up on coke or meth or both, they began by smoking pot.”

    When I was in college, I learned about the reality of pot and tried it, and my reaction was: “if this harmless and pleasant intoxicant is completely illegal, I wonder what other wondrous things I’ve been lied to about?” I managed to keep my head on straight, only doing mushrooms and LSD (also harmless, if not entirely pleasant), but I think the reason marijuana is a gateway drug is exactly *because* it is in the same super-illegal category as many much worse substances. If our laws were sensible, with alcohol and marijuana and mushrooms legal but regulated, and meth and crack and heroin kept surpremely illegal, then a lot more people would try marijuana and mushrooms, but a lot fewer would ever even consider doing meth and crack.

  16. The “gateway drug” myth has been repeatedly disproved. And if there is such a thing, it is alcohol and cigarettes are the drugs that people usually start with.

  17. So true, #28. Almost every kid by high school or college discovers that they have been lied to all along. Marijuana is safer and milder than Tobacco and certainly safer than Alcohol. The “powers that be” lose all credibility at that point.

    The past three Presidents have admitted to at least Marijuana use, but the average man on the street gets thrown into prison for using it. Kids are told Marijuana is dangerous and then find out it is not. Is it any wonder they don’t believe anything they are told anymore?

  18. Ugh, you guys really think our government and the narcos down here are that smart/resourceful/organized? I’m sitting here in a fleabag hotel in Puerto Barrios, Guatemala- one of the “bridges” of the cocaine trade up to the US- and I can assure you they can barely keep the lights on, much less efficiently step on your coke in some devious or strategic way.

    They probably use levamisole because farming and livestock is a very common occupation here in Latin America, so it’s most likely easy to get and relatively cheap. Seriously, you think some narco is going to go out of his way to make his job harder? Do something special to improve your high? Put any more effort into what he has to do to get paid?? Get real. If a giant pile of talcum powder fell into the middle of a Columbian jungle, 69% of US cocaine would be cut with…guess what?!

  19. Big picture people.

    Coupled with the new plan for immunization to anthropomorphic-“pandemics”, this seems like a most logical introduction of an agent to speed things along, if you will permit me the pun. You and I, we are nobody in the mechanism of a government managed future.

  20. That’s awesome! Really, because they used to use laxatives and it would make you shit yourself if you weren’t careful.

    True story.

  21. I love how the DEA always finds the most bizarre sounding use of a cutting agent to publicize. I guess “possum wormer” sounds way more dangerous than “a synthetic antibiotic that has been in common use for a wide variety of human and animal ailments since its discovery in the 1960s.”

  22. Cocaine is still used medicinally in the US, although infrequently. I had a patient on my unit within the last month that was given a cocaine injection during maxillofacial surgery.

  23. Why on Earth does the DEA cut all the cocaine they import into the US with the veterinary deworming drug levamisole??? They have to know that vitamin B is much better. Heck, even baking soda is better~

  24. I know someone who was in to coke in a big way, i.e using importing,distributing. A few years ago he realised that importing large quantities of “cut” was more lucrative that doing the chico itself,and a somewhat less illegal
    proposition. The UK has since developed a tiered system of coke users – three different prices for three different levels of cut. All of them pretty shit. I think it would be safe to say that most UK users wouldn’t know good coke if they saw it.

  25. This has been going on for a while. I remember seeing on my college campus (UMass Amherst) a flier from the state basically warning people. It was telling you to seek medical treatment immediately if you think you’ve been exposed. Apparently the majority of the cocaine going back several months that’s been seized in MA had been cut with this.

    This was probably about a month and a half ago that it was being fliered about.

  26. Past the whole possum thing, if you were trying to smuggle a quantity of an illegal substance across a border wouldn’t you want to smuggle it as pure as possible and then cut it at its destination? Its not the cut that’s illegal so you should be trying to get the most concentration of pure stuff you can past the border.

    So even if the DEA isn’t lying, which I believe they are. The only people more likely to lie to you than criminals are cops. Even if they aren’t lying to you, that 69% might turn into as little as 10% by the time it gets to the end user.

  27. @ imipak #21

    In July there was a Seattle Public Health advisory about levamisole in the local cocaine supply.

    The news stories talked about three people going to the hospital, because levamisole seriously compromises the immune system — if enough is taken, you can be highly vulnerable to spurious and uncontrollable infections.

    SPH actually posted flyers talking about ‘bad cocaine’ on phone poles in neighborhoods known to be frequented by crack dealers.

    If 69% of the US coke supply was truly cut with levamisole, I would think that you’d see a noticible upspike in people going to the hospital with freaky infections. But I ain’t no doctor.

  28. It’s not a DEA conspiracy. We’ve got cocaine cut with this stuff in Edmonton. Here’s an academic article on it:

    According to the article 47% of American coke is cut with levamisole, for unknown reasons. I’d suggest that they look up the company or companies that produce the veterinary drug, sell it, or distribute it. The north american livestock industry isn’t doing all that well these days and if there’s a better product, there may be a lot of levamisole lying around in inventory, costing the farm pharma sector $$$.

    Wouldn’t be the first time pharma companies were found to be involved in the illicit drug trade, recall the class action settlements on oxycontin, the resistance to meth precursor chemical controls, and the Canadian tobacco industry’s active participation with organized crime in the smuggling of cheap exported cigarettes back into Canada from the U.S.

  29. One of the simplest arguments against drug prohibition is this:

    “Drug illegalization is a program that gives a government mandated monopoly on the sale of drugs to organized crime syndicates.”

    And, why wouldn’t organized crime syndicates do something like this? What do they care? Working outside any legal structures, they cannot be sued; because they operate in the dark, they have no brand reputatio to protect.

    But I do disagree that regulation is necessary to stop things like this.

    Effects like this are purely the result of an interference with an open, transparent market with regards to drugs. We don’t need to legalize and regulate; because that would be redundant. Just to legalize and thus allow free information would be enough.

    I really do feel that the government might as well be the marketing arm for the drug cartels…I could hardly see how they could do a better job of making their shit seem edgy, hip, and cool.

  30. Wait, we believe what the DEA says about drugs?

    These guys would lie to their mothers. On Christmas.

    Wake me when we have numbers about the illegal drug trade we can trust as reasonably sound, determined by an organization that isn’t more interested in sound-bites than safety.

  31. All those stories the crackheads at the bus stop told you about the brain worms being afraid of good cocaine are true.

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