Health officials warn residents of contaminated heroin


County Public Health officials are warning residents that black tar heroin in Los Angeles may be contaminated with bacteria that can cause wound botulism, a serious illness that can cause death, according to a news release.

Local Sheriff’s Station arrests and outreach efforts from the city indicate heroin use is a problem in the Santa Clarita Valley as it is across the nation — Centers for Disease Control numbers indicate heroin use has surpassed gun homicides nationally as a cause of death.

The county’s alert calls on first responders and emergency department personnel to consider botulism in heroin users who present neurologic symptoms, and advises a call to the Department of Public Health immediately for advice on testing and treatment if symptoms occur.

Injection drug users are at greatest risk for wound botulism, especially if injecting contaminated heroin under their skin or into their muscle, according to health officials. Contaminated drugs look the same as drugs that do not contain bacteria, and “cooking” or heating drugs will not kill the bacteria that cause botulism. The illness is not contagious from person to person, but if users share contaminated heroin or equipment with another person, both of users might get botulism.

Symptoms include drooping eyelids, blurred or double vision, difficulty speaking, difficulty swallowing, trouble breathing, and shortness of breath. Symptoms may be mistaken for drug overdose and may occur within days or weeks of injecting the contaminated drug.

Any injection drug user who is suspected of experiencing these symptoms should go to the nearest emergency room immediately. Symptoms can be life-threatening and require immediate medical attention.

For general information on drug abuse prevention and treatment, visit the Substance Abuse Prevention and Control website or call 844-804-7500. For more information on wound botulism, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention webpage on Injection Drug Use and wound botulism.

The above information was provided to The Signal via a Los Angeles County Public Health news release.

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