Cocaine Use and Levamisole-Induced Vasculitis: A Multiple Case Study : Journal of Wound Ostomy & Continence Nursing

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Challenges in Practice

Cocaine Use and Levamisole-Induced Vasculitis

A Multiple Case Study

Engels, Dawn

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Journal of Wound, Ostomy and Continence Nursing 47(2):p 182-189, March/April 2020. | DOI: 10.1097/WON.0000000000000628



Levamisole is an immunomodulatory medication previously used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and some types of cancers; it was banned for use in humans in 2000 owing to its harmful side effects. Use of levamisole-laced cocaine is associated with a life-threatening syndrome characterized by a necrotizing purpuric rash leading to tissue destruction and necrotic wounds. This Clinical Challenges article summarizes our experience with the care of 2 adult women diagnosed with levamisole-related vasculitis.


Case 1 is a 46-year-old woman who presented with joint pain in her hands and legs, along with bilateral ear pain, swelling, and bleeding. She was initially diagnosed with vasculitis and possible systemic lupus erythematosus. She experienced multiple recurrences and exacerbation of her condition over a period of months. She was ultimately diagnosed with levamisole-related vasculitis from recurrent cocaine use resulting in bilateral above the knee amputations. The second case is a 50-year-old woman who presented to our emergency department with redness and swelling of her bilateral lower extremities. She developed blisters and pustules that rapidly evolved into abscesses and red lesions over the course of several months. Her wounds also deteriorated despite topical therapy that occurred in a context of recurring use of cocaine.


Our experience with these cases suggests that WOC nurses should consider levamisole-induced vasculitis in all patients presenting with unexplained vasculitis-type lesions, and particularly when these lesions occur in the context of known or suspected use of illicit substances such as cocaine. Given the absence of clinical guidelines for this increasingly prevalent condition, we recommend wound care based on principles of moist wound healing, combined with judicious use of therapies with antimicrobial activity and nonadherent dressings to reduce pain. Finally, we strongly recommend that care of these patients occurs as one part of a multidisciplinary care approach that focuses on cessation of the use of cocaine and all other illicit substances.

© 2020 by the Wound, Ostomy and Continence Nurses Society

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