A drug that promotes lean muscle growth in cattle may be turning up in heroin on the East Coast, sickening users and stoking fears of a wave of such poisonings, U.S. health officials said Thursday.
Traces of clenbuterol were found in the urine of eight reported heroin users who became ill in New York and Connecticut in the first three months of 2005, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a weekly health report.
Clenbuterol, which is legal in some countries but not in the United States, has also been linked to 18 other cases that surfaced in New York and four states along the Atlantic coast around the same time, according to the report.
Many of those sickened developed dangerously rapid heart rates and palpitations, chest pain and low blood pressure. The majority said they had snorted rather than injected what they thought was heroin before becoming sick.
“The 26 cases described in this report likely represent a fraction of actual cases of clenbuterol poisoning,” the CDC said in its report, the first published investigation into the problem.
The Atlanta-based federal agency, however, said it was possible that those sickened earlier this year had taken pure clenbuterol that was sold to them as heroin.
It urged health care providers, especially those working in emergency departments, and others dealing with heroin users to be aware of the typical symptoms associated with ingestion of clenbuterol.
The warning came one week after six people died of apparent heroin overdoses in lower Manhattan.
Heroin use in the United States exploded in the 1990s, in part due to the development of purer forms of the drug, which made it easier for users to get high by snorting the powder rather than by heating and injecting it.
An estimated 3.7 million people in the United States reported having tried heroin and more than 119,000 of them had used the drug within the previous month, according to a 2003 survey by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.