The death toll stands at 17 with 56 people hospitalized after using cocaine suspected of containing a toxic substance in the capital Buenos Aires, officials said, amid fears the death toll could rise further.
At least 17 people have died in Argentina and 56 others have been hospitalized after consuming cocaine containing a toxic substance, authorities in the province of Buenos Aires, where the incident occurred, said.
Officials said Wednesday they were working quickly to determine what the cocaine was mixed with, but warned those who purchased the drug in the past 24 hours to get rid of it.
Sergio Berni, head of security for the province of Buenos Aires, told the television station Telefe that the authorities were trying to locate the toxic substance “to remove it from circulation”.
Provincial security forces arrested 10 people suspected of selling drugs after the first deaths on Wednesday.
Packages of cocaine similar to those described by the victims’ families were seized.
Territory war between rival groups
Initial reports indicated that the victims were suffering from seizures and sudden heart attacks.
Some local media reported that the cocaine was “cut” with a toxic substance, likely by a drug gang looking to cut costs and maximize profits amid a turf war with rival groups.
“We are awaiting lab results and investigation results from people who have been detained,” Berni said.
Health authorities said at least four of the victims were men between the ages of 32 and 45.
“There’s a key ingredient that attacks the central nervous system,” Berni said.
His office said late in the day that emergency services were reporting new patients in “critical condition” being brought to the hospital.
Death toll feared to rise
San Martin prosecutor Marcelo Lapargo said Radio Miter that the main concern of the authorities “is to be able to communicate so that those who are in possession of this poison know that they must not consume it”.
Investigators fear the death toll will rise, with some people who bought cocaine unable to get to a treatment center in time.
Lapargo said this case was “absolutely exceptional”.
He also said the idea of a battle between drug dealers was “guesswork” at this point.
Police briefly clashed with residents of part of Tres de Febrero who were protesting the arrest of local youths during the drug raid.