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County Health Officials Issue Medical Advisory For Bacteria Illnesses Linked To Heroin Use

Mexican black tar heroin seized during a police raid in Ventura County, March...

Credit: Associated Press

Above: Mexican black tar heroin seized during a police raid in Ventura County, March 2010.

County health officials issued an advisory to the medical community Wednesday in response to the deaths of seven local residents in the last two months from a bacterial infection linked to the use of black tar heroin.

Nine residents, ranging in age from 19 to 57 years old, were admitted to local hospitals between Oct. 2 and Nov. 24 with severe myonecrosis, a bacterial soft tissue infection that destroys muscle tissue and is often associated with use of illegal injected drugs.

Similarly, intravenous drug users can develop wound botulism, a rare affliction that attacks the body's nerves. Local health officials have confirmed only one case of wound botulism linked to black tar heroin use this year, in October. Across Southern California, 13 probable and confirmed cases of the illness have been identified since the beginning of September.

"People who use black tar heroin are not only at higher risk of dying from an overdose, but also more prone to developing myonecrosis and wound botulism," county public health officer Dr. Wilma Wooten said.

Myonecrosis symptoms can include severe pain and swelling around a wound or injection site, a fever, increased sweating and heart rate, blisters, air under the skin and pale, discolored skin. If left untreated, the infection can lead to amputation or death.

Symptoms of wound botulism include weak or drooping eyelids, blurred vision, dry mouth, a sore throat, slurred speech, issues swallowing and breathing and a progressive paralysis that travels throughout the body. The illness can also lead to death if left unchecked.

The local source or sources of the black tar heroin are still being investigated, according to the county. People dealing with drug or substance addiction are advised to contact the county's Access and Crisis Line at 888-724- 7240 for help.

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