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Public Health Warning for Cocaine Users

February 09, 2009 3:04 PM

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Public health doctors have issued an alert to health professionals throughout the Glasgow and Clyde area to be on the look out after two cocaine users were treated for a very rare and life-threatening condition associated with the use of cocaine.

The condition, known as Methaemoglobinaemia, is so rare that these two cases are the only known UK cases linked with cocaine use.

Dr Eleanor Anderson, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde’s, Consultant in Public Health, said: “Methaemoglobinaemia occurs when an increased quantity of the iron of haemogloblin is oxidised to the ferric form. Essentially it means an abnormality with a lack of oxygen in the blood. We are uncertain as to the causes of Methaemoglobinaemia in these two cases and our investigations are ongoing but it may be related to the consumption of an unusually large quantity of cocaine, or the presence of an unknown agent in the cocaine.

“Apart from the fact that the cases are so rare, what is also of concern is that both cases occurred over a short five week period and both were in the Glasgow area. Both patients have now recovered and been discharged but they were very lucky – so serious is this condition that they may well have not survived.”

The symptoms of Methaemoglobinaemia include, Cyanosis (blue lips), headache, abnormal heart rates, breathlessness, fatigue, exercise intolerance, dizziness, loss of consciousness, seizures and in severe cases coma and death.

Dr Eleanor Anderson urged: “If any cocaine users display any of these symptoms they should present to their nearest A&E, GP or Health Centre for prompt assessment and treatment for what is potentially a very serious condition.”


For further information contact 0141 201 4429.

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Last Updated: 11 November 2021