Relatives of people hospitalized after consuming cocaine cut with a toxic substance are seen at San Bernardino Hospital in Hurlingham, Buenos Aires province, on February 2, 2022. At least 17 people died and 56 more were hospitalized in a northwestern suburb of Buenos Aires after consuming cocaine cut with a toxic substance, possibly opioids, authorities said Wednesday.
Emiliano Lasalvia / AFP
The death toll among dozens of people who consumed cocaine likely laced with opioids in Buenos Aires rose to 23 on Friday, with 37 still in hospital, health officials said.
Two of the hospitalised are in a serious condition and on mechanical ventilation.
Officials said 20 men and three women aged 21 to 58 have died since Tuesday night from adulterated cocaine bought from dealers in the poor neighborhood of Loma Hermosa, some 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Buenos Aires city center.
Most died far from the point of sale, 12 of them at home and two on the road, unable to make it to a hospital on time because of the sudden effects of the tainted drug. Many suffered heart attacks.
Thirty-seven remained hospitalized Friday in seven different hospitals, according to a provincial government update.
Three of them had been discharged but had to be re-hospitalized after taking more of the cocaine, provincial health minister Nicolas Kreplak said.
More than 200 other people sought medical intervention after consuming the substance, presenting symptoms of varying degrees of gravity.
Arrests and Seizures
Thirteen people rounded up in a police operation to establish the origins of the tainted drug were due to appear before magistrates as part of the ongoing investigation, according to the Telam news agency.
They include the well-known leader of a drug trafficking network in greater Buenos Aires, a 33-year-old nicknamed “El Paisa.”
The substance with which the cocaine was laced has not yet been confirmed, but authorities say it is likely an opioid.
Police have seized more than 20,000 doses of cocaine in a crackdown, but have not revealed how many of these were from the laced batch.
The incident has brought to light the dangers of illegal drug use, especially of cheap, low-quality cocaine sold and consumed in Buenos Aires’s poorest communities.
According to security chief Sergio Berni, at least 250,000 doses of cocaine are sold daily in Buenos Aires province, home to some 40 percent of the Argentine population of 45 million and with high poverty rates.
Officials said Thursday that things were under control, but urged recent buyers of cocaine in and around the capital city to throw it away.
“Every dealer that buys cocaine cuts it. Some do it with non-toxic substances such as starch. Others put hallucinogens in it, and if there is no form of control, this kind of thing happens,” Berni said.
San Martin public prosecutor Marcelo Lapargo has said what happened was “absolutely exceptional” and there was “no precedent” in Argentina.
Illegal drug use has been on the rise in the South American country.
In the mid-1980s, half a ton of cocaine was seized every year — a decade later, it was four times that, official data shows.
In 2017, a record 12.1 tons of cocaine were seized in the country, but in 2020, the number fell to about 2.7 tons as consumption dropped during the pandemic.