BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Apparently, adulterated cocaine has killed 20 people in Buenos Aires and seriously sickened 74 others, health officials said early Thursday, as authorities desperately searched for the rest of the deadly batch to get it off the streets before it is consumed.
Experts were still analyzing the drug to determine what was in it that caused the deaths. Law enforcement officials said one hypothesis under consideration was that the cocaine was deliberately adulterated as part of a settlement between traffickers.
Police said the cocaine was being sold in the Puerta 8 slum in San Martín, a suburb north of the Argentine capital, and that a dozen people had been arrested.
“This event is absolutely extraordinary. We have no precedent,” San Martin Attorney General Marcelo Lapargo told cable channel Todo Noticias. “If the situation has escalated and the nature of human trafficking has changed to the point where it becomes commonplace, I hope I never see it again.”
Argentine authorities initially reported that eight members of the same group died after buying the drug on Tuesday. But over time, the death toll grew. The provincial health ministry said early Thursday that 20 people had died and 74 others were hospitalized, 18 of whom required mechanical ventilation.
“The poison urgently needs to be taken off the market so that it is no longer sold,” said Lapargo. “There must be a lot of people with a bag in their pocket and the number of hospital admissions shows that the most important thing is to stop this extremely high risk.”
Authorities urged anyone who may have purchased the deadly drug not to use it.
Sergio Berni, the Buenos Aires provincial security minister, urged “those who have bought drugs in the last 24 hours to throw away what they have bought”.