NEWS: Argentina
Contaminated cocaine kills 20 dead and seriously ills 74.

At least 20 peo­ple have died and 74 have been hos­pi­tal­ized in seri­ous con­di­tion after ingest­ing cocaine appar­ent­ly mixed with a tox­ic sub­stance, in what author­i­ties said was a pos­si­ble poisoning.

Author­i­ties were work­ing to deter­mine what sub­stance the cocaine was cut with and on Wednes­day warned any­one who pur­chased the drug in the past 24 hours to throw it away.

The pos­ses­sion and per­son­al use of cocaine has been decrim­i­nal­ized in the coun­try, while its trans­port and sale are still illegal.

On Wednes­day, Ser­gio Berni, the head of secu­ri­ty for the province of Buenos Aires, told Telefe tele­vi­sion that author­i­ties were try­ing to find the con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed cocaine “to remove it from circulation”.

Cocaine sam­ples had been sent to a lab­o­ra­to­ry in La Pla­ta for analysis.

“There’s a key ingre­di­ent that attacks the cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem,” Berni said.

Late Wednes­day, crowds wait­ed out­side hos­pi­tals in Buenos Aires for updates on loved ones. Three sep­a­rate hos­pi­tals report­ed sev­er­al deaths and seri­ous cas­es of poisoning.

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

“He was hard­ly breath­ing, his eyes were rolling back,” she said. She took him to the hos­pi­tal, where he had been on life sup­port since Wednes­day evening.

“I hope in God, noth­ing else, a miracle.”

Author­i­ties said at least 18 of those hos­pi­tal­ized required intubation.

Mean­while, police arrest­ed at least 12 peo­ple in the Tres de Febrero Par­tido neigh­bor­hood of San Mar­tin, a low-income sub­urb north of the capital.

Neigh­bor­hood res­i­dents began burn­ing tires to block the roads, protest­ing what they called the ran­dom deten­tion of inno­cent people.

Law enforce­ment offi­cials have said one hypoth­e­sis is that the drugs were poi­soned dur­ing a dis­pute between traf­fick­ers, accord­ing to The Asso­ci­at­ed Press.

How­ev­er, San Mar­tin pros­e­cu­tor Marce­lo Lapargo told Radio Miter the the­o­ry was “guess­work” at this stage.

While the death toll could rise, he said author­i­ties’ main con­cern “is to be able to com­mu­ni­cate, so that those in pos­ses­sion of this poi­son know not to con­sume it”.

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