Warning after aphrodisiac kills man

NEW YORK The alert went out Friday after New York City's poison control center received a report from an area hospital that a 35-year-old man had died earlier this month after ingesting a small chunk of the hard, brown substance.

The product is sold at sex shops and neighborhood stores under names including Piedra, Love Stone, Jamaican Stone, Black Stone and Chinese Rock. It is banned by the Food and Drug Administration, but shipments from overseas suppliers still occasionally slip past customs.

Buyers may have no idea they are dealing with anything illegal or dangerous. The various types of "stone" are often sold packaged in plastic, with a barcode, a price tag and official-looking instructions for use.

City health officials said the 35-year-old victim developed an abnormal heart rhythm after eating some "Piedra" he purchased at a neighborhood store.

He was admitted to the hospital complaining of chest and abdominal pain. Doctors recognized the problem and treated him for two days but couldn't save his life. His name was not released.

Health officials say the culprit was a hardened resin, made at least partly from venom collected from toads of the Bufo genus, containing chemicals known as bufadienolides that can disrupt heart rhythms. The aphrodisiac was supposed to have been applied to the skin, not eaten, but authorities said even that use can be harmful.

"There is no definitely safe way to use it," said Dr. Robert Hoffman, director of the city's poison control center. "Don't buy it. Don't sell it. If you have it, don't use it. Throw it out."

The same type of product killed at least four New Yorkers in the early 1990s. A 17-year-old boy also fell seriously ill, but survived following hours of aggressive treatment.

Following that outbreak, city investigators went looking for the poison and found it was being sold sporadically in grocery stores, smoke shops and from street vendors.

Inspectors have been on the lookout for the stuff ever since, but identifying it isn't always easy. It is sometimes sold in packaging labeled only in foreign languages.

It isn't clear how available the aphrodisiac is elsewhere in the U.S., although some similar products have been seized from suspected drug traffickers in other East Coast cities, authorities said.

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