At least 20 people died and dozens are hospitalized, some with serious conditions, after consuming adulterated cocaine and suffering severe poisoning in the western area of Greater Buenos Aires. The fact generates commotion in Argentina and opens the debate on drug policy.
According to the information released by the authorities, almost all the people affected would have bought the doses of cocaine in the same place, in the informal settlement “Puerta 8”, which is located in the district of Tres de Febrero.
Until Thursday, February 3 at noon, Argentine time, 214 inquiries had been received for poisoning, Nicolás Kreplak, Minister of Health of the Province of Buenos Aires, said at a press conference.
The official did not rule out that “there could be a case” of someone who has died at home and has not been detected, which would increase the number of deaths; but he clarified that they had no concrete reports in this regard.
In a series of raids, the authorities seized around 15,000 doses of cocaine and are investigating whether they may be from the same batch that caused the deaths in the Buenos Aires suburbs.
On Thursday, at the same press conference in which the province’s Minister of Health spoke, Governor Axel Kicillof’s chief adviser, Carlos Bianco, said that “it could have been a greater tragedy” if other doses had not been detected. . And he considered that “in principle we have stabilized the situation.”
There were several arrests by the Justice of the province of Buenos Aires, in the framework of the investigation for intoxication, and by the Federal Justice, for another process -previous- on drug trafficking, which could be related to the cause of cocaine adulterated (drug trafficking is the responsibility of the Federal Justice, not the provincial).
“It could be opiate intoxication”
The deaths from this massive intoxication, an unprecedented event in the country, began on Wednesday, February 2, and the authorities do not rule out that the number of those affected may rise.
The Ministry of Health of the Province of Buenos Aires issued a statement in which it called for “not to ingest cocaine acquired in the last 24 hours”, and that in case of having consumed it, one should go urgently to a health center if they appear. symptoms such as increased shortness of breath or a tendency to sleep.
Also, that portfolio had issued an epidemiological alert to the health services, in which it warned of the cases, noting that “cases with signs of shock, sensory depression, respiratory difficulty, psychomotor arousal” had been identified and that “it could be opiate intoxication.
The text suggested “evaluate the administration of Naloxone as an antidote”. Naloxone is used to treat opiate overdoses, such as fentanyl.
Fentanyl adulteration is a serious problem in the United States. On the one hand, the margin of error is very wide: a small variation can make it deadly and, on the other hand, because it can seriously affect those who are not used to the substance.
In any case, in the case of the massive intoxication in Argentina, it is not yet known what the cocaine was adulterated with. Although the Minister of Security of the province of Buenos Aires, Sergio Berni, said at the press conference on Thursday that it is known to be an opioid.
One of the hypotheses is that there was a miscalculation when cutting the cocaine, a practice used by traffickers to reduce the amount of cocaine, in some cases to improve their profit margin and in others to modify the effect of the drug. substance.
“Here it is not useful for all of us to fight. No one is exempt from anything”, the forceful message of the mother of one of those interned for adulterated cocaine. pic.twitter.com/WkJjf2lBZp
– Mauro Albornoz (@Mau_Albornoz) February 2, 2022
Another hypothesis is that of a possible dispute between drug traffickers. “It could be that it is a settling of accounts between gangs of traffickers,” said Marcelo Lapardo, attorney general of the San Martín district, one of the affected districts. “It is not an error in the processing of the material or does not appear to be.” However, Berni ruled out that it was a conflict between gangs: “If it were a drug war, we would not be arresting those who were distributing this drug.”
“Everything that is done in drug policy contributes to these things happening in Argentina”
Although there are no records of intoxications of this scale in Argentina, other cases have occurred in the past. Like the one in 2016, called the Time Warp Tragedy, in which five people died after consuming designer drugs at an electronic party in the City of Buenos Aires.
Faced with cases like these, there are sectors that insist that more actions related to harm reduction can be developed, beyond the legal status of drugs such as cocaine.
“Everything that is done in drug policy contributes to these things happening in Argentina, basically because it is still a law that, despite saying no, persecutes users,” Luis Osler told France 24 in Spanish. , director of the postgraduate course at the University of Quilmes in drug policy, regulation and cannabis. That, he explained, leaves users in a vulnerable situation, because, for example, they may decide to avoid seeking help when they feel adverse effects.
For its part, the NGO Association for the Reduction of Damages of Argentina (ARDA), published a statement in which it called for “applying preventive public policies, such as substance testing.” It is something that is already happening in some countries, such as Colombia, where the NGO Acción Técnica Social provides the substance testing service.
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