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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina: Apparently adulterated cocaine killed 17 people and seriously sickened 56 others in Buenos Aires, sending Argentine authorities on a frantic search on Wednesday (Feb 2) for the remainder of the deadly batch to get it off the streets before it is consumed.

Experts were still analysing the drug to determine what was in it that caused the deaths. Judicial officials said that the main hypothesis being considered was that the cocaine was intentionally adulterated as part of a settling of scores between traffickers.

Police said that the cocaine was sold in the poor neighbourhood Puerta 8 in San Martin – a suburb to the north of Argentina’s capital – and that a dozen people had been arrested.

“This event is absolutely exceptional. We have no precedent,” San Martin Attorney General Marcelo Lapargo told cable channel Todo Noticias. “If the situation has escalated and the nature of trafficking has changed to the point where this becomes commonplace, I hope I never see it again.”

Police interview victims at one of the hospitals were people who were poisoned with adulterated cocaine are being treated, in the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Feb 2, 2022. (Photo: AP/Rodrigo Abd)
Relatives and friends of people who were poisoned with adulterated cocaine wait outside the emergency room of a hospital in the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Feb 2, 2022. (Photo: AP/Rodrigo Abd)
A girl stands outside her house in the Puerta 8 low income neighbourhood of Buenos Aires, where authorities say adulterated cocaine was sold, on Feb 2, 2022. (Photo: AP/Rodrigo Abd)
Two women who have friends that were poisoned and hospitalised after consuming adulterated cocaine chat outside their home in the Puerta 8 low income neighbourhood of Buenos Aires on Feb 2, 2022. (Photo: AP/Rodrigo Abd)

Argentine authorities initially reported that eight members of the same group had died after buying the drug on Tuesday. But as time passed, the number of deaths grew, with the latest official report putting the death toll at 17, with 56 more people hospitalised.

“The urgency is to remove the poison from the market, to stop it from being sold,“ Lapargo said. “There must be a lot of people with a bag in their pocket, and the number of people hospitalised shows that the most important thing is to stop this extremely high risk.”

Authorities urged anyone who might have bought the deadly drug not to use it.

Sergio Berni, the security minister for Buenos Aires province, called on “those who have bought drugs in the last 24 hours to discard what they bought”.