Authorities Wary as Designer Drug “Krokodil” Appears on American Streets

The Bizarre and Tragic Effects of Krokodil

Time magazine calls it “the most horrifying drug in the world.” Its name comes from the gangrenous scales that appear on the skin of its users – before the skin begins to decay. It’s more addictive than heroin. It’ll make the flesh begin to rot and fall off of your bones – or even make your bones start to dissolve inside your body. It’s called krokodil, and it has found its way onto American soil.

Originally cooked up in Russia in the early 2000s as a cheap alternative to heroin, krokodil (pronounced “crocodile,” and chemically known as “desomorphine”) is the real-life version of every horror story you have ever heard about drugs. Typically made in the kind of setting that would make “Breaking Bad’s” Walter White consider a career change, krokodil is synthesized from over-the-counter codeine pills (legal in Russia until 2013), iodine, and any number of household chemicals, such as hydrochloric acid, the phosphorus from matchsticks, gasoline or paint thinner.[1]

Desomorphine is a synthetic morphine that was originally patented in the U.S. in the 1930s. It is about 10 times more powerful than morphine and acts very quickly within the body. Though there have been no medical uses found for the drug in the United States, it was used medically in Switzerland under the name of Permonid to treat severe pain.[2]

In Russia, where the drug has gained popularity for more than a decade among young adults, it is used as a cheaper and more potent option to heroin. In Europe, a dose of krokodil costs just a few dollars compared to $20 for a hit of heroin. In 2012, there were as many as 1,000,000 million krokodil addicts in Russia, and 65 million doses of the drug were confiscated through the first three months of 2011.[3]

Krokodil in the United States

Cases of poisoning from and even possible fatalities from krokodil have begun to spring up across the United States, with likely appearances in Arizona and Illinois and conflicting reports about a fatality in Oklahoma.[4] Part of the issue in identifying case of krokodil is the extremely short half-life of the drug – by the time toxicology screens and autopsies can be performed, it may have already left no traces in the victim’s body.

Another part is that authorities have yet to seize any samples of krokodil in drug busts, so there is no official confirmation of the drug’s presence in the US from the Drug Enforcement Administration.[5]

Reports from the victims in Illinois indicate that krokodil is being sold as regular heroin there, and possibly elsewhere in the country, which is troubling. Heroin use in the United States has been a major concern over the last few years, as it has seen a recent upswing in popularity with America’s youth. If krokodil is out on the streets, masquerading as cheap heroin, we could soon be seeing a rise in fatalities. The drug already kills 30,000 Russians every year.[6]

Devastating Health Risks

When considering the health hazards of krokodil use and abuse, it must be pointed out that many users are making the drug in home labs. There is a high likelihood that they could include several unknown ingredients which may or may not include desopmorphine. A person could be just as likely to be poisoned through gasoline or paint thinner which has not been fully cooked out of the mixture as they would be to overdose on the actual drug itself.

According to reports, people who use krokodil enjoy the fast-action and potency of the drug, but the high, lasting just two hours, often pushes users into a cycle of repetitive use, exacerbating any potential health issues. According to reports, people who inject the drug develop infections, discolored scale-like skin and extreme skin ulcerations. Long term usage leads to serious vein damage, soft tissue infections, necrosis and the potential of limb amputation.[7]

Other Health Risks Include

  • Blood vessel damage
  • Skin grafts
  • Pneumonia
  • Blood poisoning
  • Meningitis
  • Rotting gums
  • Tooth loss
  • HIV/HCV
  • Bone infections
  • Memory loss
  • Liver and kidney damage
  • Overdose
  • Death

Despite several reports of U.S. krokodil addicts being treated in several U.S. states, the Drug Enforcement Administration has denied that there is any problem and has downplayed the threat. They have denied seeing any cases of the drug and say they have not gotten any samples of it into their labs.[8]

Will Krokodil Replace Heroin in the U.S.?

In Europe, a dose of krokodil costs just a few dollars compared to $20 for a hit of heroin.A potential nightmare scenario for the United States would be for heroin users to begin moving to krokodil. If this seems farfetched, consider that a large portion of heroin addicts caught in the current U.S. epidemic turned to the drug after first becoming addicted to prescription painkillers. Heroin became a desirable option for many prescription opioid addicts because it did not require a prescription, it was cheaper and often more powerful.

Krokodil is undoubtedly stronger than heroin, is cheaper and can be made using products easily obtained. The fact that codeine cannot be bought over the counter may serve as a deterrent to people manufacturing krokodil in their kitchens, but for addicts who have developed an expensive heroin addiction, krokodil could prove to be a scary alternative they may be willing to pursue.

Drug Education Available at BHOPB

The best way to prevent drug use, abuse and addiction is through education. Experimental users, addicts and their families need to be educated about the potential dangers involved in abusing drugs, the progressive nature of drug use and the disease of addiction.

If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction to heroin, prescription painkillers, cocaine, alcohol or any other drug, Behavioral Health of the Palm Beaches has the experience, knowledge and compassionate care you need. Contact us today to begin learning more about our rehabilitation services.