By Ebi Kesiena
Argentine authorities have disclosed that at least 20 people died and 74 more were hospitalized in a Buenos Aires suburb after consuming cocaine cut with a toxic substance, possibly opioids.
Officials said they were working quickly to determine what the cocaine was mixed with, but warned those who bought the drug over the last 24 hours to dispose of it.
Sergio Berni, the security chief for Buenos Aires province, told television channel Telefe that authorities were trying to locate the toxic substance “to remove it from circulation.”
“There is a key ingredient that is attacking the central nervous system,” Berni said.
About 10 people were arrested after police raided a house in the poor Tres de Febrero neighborhood where they believe the cocaine was sold.
Packets of cocaine similar to those described by the victims’ families were seized. The drugs were taken to a laboratory in La Plata, the capital of Buenos Aires province, for analysis.
Authorities issued an urgent warning early 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.
Beatriz Mercado told AFP she had 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.
“I hope in God, nothing else. A miracle.”
An initial toll of 12 deaths and 50 hospitalizations 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.