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20 dead after taking toxic drugs in Argentina

BUENOS AIRES (AFP) – At least 20 people died and 74 more were hospitalised in a Buenos Aires suburb after consuming cocaine cut with a toxic substance Argentine authorities said on Wednesday.

Officials said they were working quickly to determine what the cocaine was mixed with and “remove it from circulation”, warning those who bought the drug over the last 24 hours to dispose of it.

Buenos Aires Provincial Security Chief Sergio Berni described the additive as “a key ingredient that is attacking the central nervous system” while speaking to television channel Telefe.

Beatriz Mercado told AFP she found her 31-year-old son, one of the victims, lying face-down on the kitchen floor.

“He was almost not breathing, his eyes were rolling back,” she said. She took him to the hospital, where he was on life support as of Wednesday evening.

About 10 people were arrested after police raided a house in the poor Tres de Febrero neighbourhood where they believe the cocaine was sold and packets of the substance similar to those described by the victims’ families were seized.

Police interview victims at a hospital where people poisoned with adulterated cocaine are being treated, in the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina. PHOTO: AP

The drugs were taken to a laboratory in La Plata, the capital of Buenos Aires province,
for analysis.

Authorities issued an urgent warning on Wednesday after three separate hospitals reported several deaths and serious cases of poisoning.

Several of those being treated told doctors they had taken cocaine together.

An initial toll of 12 deaths and 50 hospitalisations kept rising – with victims admitted to eight different hospitals, a Buenos Aires province government spokesperson told AFP.

Earlier reports said the victims suffered convulsions and sudden heart attacks.

Health authorities said at least four of the victims were men aged between 32 and 45.

“We are desperate, we want to know why one person is dying after another here,” said Maria Morales, outside the hospital where her brother-in-law was being treated.

Berni’s office said late in the day that emergency services were reporting new patients in “critical condition” being brought to hospitals.