Wednesday, May 18

Argentina: adulterated cocaine near Buenos Aires kills 20, hospitalizes 74

At least 20 people have died and 74 have been hospitalized in the suburbs of Buenos Aires after massive poisoning from adulterated cocaine, authorities said on Wednesday.

An initial toll of 12 dead and around 50 hospitalized increased over the course of the evening, with victims admitted to eight hospitals in the agglomeration, a spokesman for the provincial government of Buenos Aires confirmed to AFP. .

The authorities on Wednesday afternoon launched an urgent appeal through the media. “Those who bought drugs in the last 24 hours should throw them away,” said Buenos Aires provincial security minister Sergio Berni. Authorities are “trying to locate the toxic substance to remove it from circulation,” he added.

Police operations were carried out in the disadvantaged suburbs, holding in places of the shantytown, of Loma Hermosa, in the north-west of the capital, and a dozen people were arrested, according to the provincial minister who visited the scene.

Sachets of cocaine were seized there in a room that AFP was able to visit, similar to those identified by relatives of victims, added Mr. Berni. The cut drug was being analyzed in a laboratory in La Plata.

– Possible victims not yet found –

The alert was raised Wednesday morning when several deaths and hospitalizations for poisoning, of varying degrees of severity, occurred at three separate hospitals in the suburbs of Buenos Aires, in Hurlingham, Tres de Febrero and San Martin. Several of the hospitalized told the caregivers that they had used cocaine together.

The victims, including several men in their thirties and forties, suffered violent convulsions and sudden cardiac arrests, according to medical reports quoted by several media. “There is an important component that attacks the central nervous system,” Berni said.

Béatriz Mercado told AFP that she found her 31-year-old son lying in the kitchen at dawn. “I thought he had forgotten to turn off the lights, and I saw him. Badly, very badly. He was hardly breathing, his eyes rolled back. I understood that he had fallen face down because he had a scratch on his nose.” She took him to the hospital, where he was in the evening on life support.

“Our concern today is to be able to communicate, so that those who are in possession of this poison know that they should not consume”, declared on Radio Miter the prosecutor of San Martin in charge of the file, Marcelo Lapargo.

Investigators feared that the toll could rise, with the discovery of victims who would not have had the time or the means to get closer to a care center. “There are deaths on the public highway or in homes, the number of which it has not been possible to determine,” said an official source.

— Clashes and angry residents —

“When they say bad cocaine, we are not talking here about rotten or expired cocaine”, but cut with a toxic substance, explained Mr. Berni.

“Every dealer who buys cocaine cuts it. Some do it with non-toxic substances, like starch. Others put hallucinogens in it and if there is no control, this stuff happens,” he added.

Prosecutor Lapargo considered that the track of a deliberate adulteration of cocaine, within the framework of a settlement of accounts between rival drug traffickers and mentioned by several media, was at this stage, “conjecture”.

In the afternoon, clashes briefly opposed residents of Loma Hermosa, who were protesting against the arrest of young people as part of the investigation, and threw stones at the police.

In Loma Hermosa, residents remained vehement Wednesday evening, particularly upset against the police who during their searches ransacked or destroyed homes, they told several media including AFP.

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