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Poison Cocaine In Argentina Kills 20: Did Drug Gang Sabotage Rivals' Stash?

At least 20 people have died after taking toxic cocaine bought in a poor suburb of the Argentine capital. Police have doubts that it was just an accident, and may have been a diabolical attempt by a drug gang to discredit the product of its rivals.

photo of bags of cocaine

A file photo of cocaine seized in Buenos Aires

Claudio Santisteban/ZUMA
Virginia Messi

BUENOS AIRES - Who sold the poisoned cocaine in the Puerta 8 shantytown outside Buenos Aires that has killed at least 20 people? One motive suggested by authorities is that one of the local drug gangs wanted to ruin its competitors' business, in order to take over its territory.

This raises several questions: Would poisoning rivals' drugs to kill their customers manage to sink their business? Could someone do such a thing?


And above all, did that someone overlook the fact that such an act could backfire by sowing distrust and fear among all Argentine drug users? Or by provoking a police operation with unforeseeable consequences?

Competing theories, senseless poisonings

These are the questions the police, judges, drug experts and the public are asking themselves since the death toll began to climb on Wednesday. Immediate reactions to this horrifying situation, which has also sent dozens to hospitals around the capital, ranged from bafflement to speculation. Some suggest this could be the work of a "crazy drug cartel exterminator," ready to kill all and sundry, regardless of the cost or consequence. And who can rule out that possibility when you read other recent news stories, like the couple and their baby shot to death outside a wedding in Rosario, Argentina's third-largest city, in a possible tit-for-tat killing?

It seems unlikely, though. Those familiar with the drug world see the massive, senseless poisoning as too convoluted and diabolical to fit with recent events in this country. Others have suggested the perpetrators wanted to do harm, but not cause a massacre. It was a clumsy mistake, in other words.

That takes us to another hypothesis, of dealers mixing their drugs to boost profits and, idiotically, turning out a fatal cocktail instead. Reports have mentioned the possibility of rat poison, but there is no confirmation yet that it was mixed with cocaine.

A parallel theory follows reports that those who took less of the drug and are recovering in hospital have responded well to treatments against opioid overdose. This suggests the drug mix had substances like morphine or Fentanyl, which are potent and can kill.

Autopsies may offer clues

Neither of these drugs can be bought at your local pharmacy. Nor are they readily available in the Puerta 8 shantytown, where the drugs were sold. They are also more expensive and difficult to obtain than (low quality) cocaine sold in sectors of the capital like Morón and San Martín.

This perhaps takes us back to the possible motive of exterminating drug dealer, with access to fancy opiates, not rat poison, for their attacks.

None of these theories can be ruled out. Each has some plausibility. For now, authorities must find their clues in autopsies and drug tests on the victims' digestive systems (with results out in a month), chemical analyses of drug samples found on site, and the testimonies of survivors.

It remains to be seen where those clues will take them, even as the death count is likely to rise.

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