The contaminated cocaine which killed 24 people last week contained carfentanil, a derivative of fentanyl and a powerful opiate mixed with the drug, authorities in Argentina have confirmed.
The revelation was confirmed by Buenos Aires provincial forensic experts last Thursday based on tests carried out on samples seized from the Puerta 8 shantytown in Tres de Febrero.
"The substance used to stretch the cocaine chlorohydrate in various samples impounded in situ was carfentanil, an extremely powerful opiate whose effects are 10,000 times stronger or more than heroin or fentanyl," a communiqué informed.
Even if the substance is now known, many questions remain as to where the drug was produced – if it came from abroad or not and if the cocaine was intentionally mixed with the powerful substance or whether it was cut to expand its volume and hence profitability.
The samples were taken from drugs confiscated in Puerta 8, where various consumers who ended up in hospital said that they had gone to buy cocaine.
Parallel to this case now before a provincial court, Joaquin Aquino, alias “el Paisa,” was arrested in San Martín along with six other people accused of drug-trafficking in Villa Sarmiento, Villa Loyola and Villa 18.
It remains unknown whether the drugs impounded in the two places are part of the same shipment or not although it seems so, according to the investigators.
Meanwhile a total of 13 people have been arrested but many questions remain unanswered.
Aquino testified on Thursday morning via videoconference to federal judge Juan Manuel Culotta. He had been refusing to testify but then surprisingly changed his mind and from his Marcos Paz prison cell said that he had "nothing to do" with the sale of drugs in Puerta 8.
Two criminal cases are underway. One led by Prosecutor Germán Martínez of the UFI unit N°16 of San Martín is investigating the sale and possession of narcotics, homicide and attempted homicide. Six arrests have been made. The second probe is being led by Tres de Febrero Federal Judge Juan Manuel Culotta for the crime of drug-trafficking. Its main suspect is Aquino. In total, seven arrests have been made.
"We were a stone's throw away from a massive tragedy," Buenos Aires Province Security Minister Sergio Berni told the A24 news channel this week.
He said the victims had described “feeling like they were dying” within minutes of taking the drug.
Berni said that more than 25,000 doses of narcotics had been seized in raids, with more in the works. He believes there are further batches of contaminated drugs still out there.
Of the 24 people who died in the tragedy, 21 died in hospitals and three died on the streets. More than 200 people were hospitalised, with around 20 patients still receiving treatment in various hospitals across the region.
Deaths in Rosario?
Authorities in Rosario are investigating to see if the admission of six people to hospital is linked to last week's deaths of 24 people.
Four people were admitted to hospital on Sunday in the city of Rosario with "sensory deterioration and respiratory" problems, said local health authorities.
Another two arrived at hospital after midnight and all six "had consumed substances."
Local police carried out raids and an unspecified number of arrests, with sources saying an individual who allegedly sold the drugs was among them.