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Cocaine Mule Busted In Sao Paulo

Here's a picture worth almost a thousand grams.

The CT scan above shows the insides of a 20-year-old man apprehended Monday at an airport in São Paulo, Brazil, as he was getting ready to board a flight to Brussels.

All those reddish capsules lined up in his intestines are filled with cocaine.

The Irish national, identified only as P.B.B., was pinched by authorities because he was acting nervous. Wouldn't you be, too, if you were carrying nearly a kilogram of cocaine in your guts?

Carrying cocaine inside your body is risky, and not just because you could wind up in jail. Mules can suffer serious intestinal obstruction and death from cocaine poisoning, if the packages burst.

The Irish guy was reportedly taken to the Santa Misericordia Hospital where the capsules were removed from his body. How exactly? That isn't clear from the press coverage I saw.

Surgical removal of the packages is one option. But as doctors reported in the Canadian Journal of Surgery two years ago, surgical removal is far less likely than it used to be. Cocaine-filled packages can rupture during surgery, endangering patients, and there are other complications.

More often, the cases are treated with laxatives and fluids in the intestines. The report in the Canadian journal looked back at the cases of 61 cocaine mules treated over a five-year period at a hospital near Heathrow Airport in London.

Fifty-six of the people were treated conservatively. The remaining five required surgery. Nobody died. The average length of treatment was 2.8 days.

What about the cocaine and the outcome for the patients?

Here's the straight dope from the doctors who wrote the paper:

Customs staff counted and secured the obtained packets. At no point during the conservatively managed patients' stays were hospital staff involved in the handling of cocaine packets because the laws regarding the handling of evidence require a secure chain of custody to guarantee the identity and integrity of the specimen, from collection through to reporting of the test results. In most cases, we were therefore unable to obtain first-hand information regarding the type of packaging used or the patients' conditions after passage.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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