At least 20 people died and 74 more were hospitalized in a Buenos Aires suburb after consuming cocaine laced with a toxic substance, possibly opioids, Argentine authorities said on Wednesday.
Officials said they were investigating what the cocaine was mixed with and were trying to "to remove it from circulation." Authorities also warned those who bought the drug over the last 24 hours to discard it immediately.
Cocaine Cut with Substance that Attacks the Central Nervous System
"There is a key ingredient that is attacking the central nervous system," Buenos Aires provincial security minister Sergio Berni said.
"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," he added.
Packets of cocaine similar to those described by the victims' families were seized and taken to a laboratory in La Plata, the capital of Buenos Aires province, for analysis.
Many of those being treated told doctors they had taken cocaine together and said victims suffered convulsions and heart attacks after consuming the adulterated cocaine. Health authorities said at least four of the victims were men aged between 32 and 45.
Berni said emergency services were reporting new patients in "critical condition" being brought to hospital. An initial toll of 12 deaths and 50 hospitalizations was reported with victims admitted to eight different hospitals in the city. Investigators fear the toll could rise further, with some people who bought the cocaine unable to receive medical attention in time.
Drug Trafficking Gang Laced the Cocaine to Cut Costs
Local media reported a drug trafficking gang had laced the cocaine to cut costs. Berni noted that the drug was cut with the harmful substance as part of a "war between drug traffickers."
About 10 people were arrested after police raided a house in the poor Tres de Febrero neighborhood where they believe the cocaine was sold.
Several drug cartels are vying for power in Argentina's capital. Argentina has become a hub for hard drugs in recent years, with prices often surging due to the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The Latin American country also borders several drug producing nations, most notably Bolivia and Paraguay.