WASHINGTON, September 26, 2013 — Krokodil, a “designer drug” that first appeared in 2002 in the Russian Far East, has made its way to Western shores and poses a serious, deadly threat to abusers. This afternoon a poison control center in Phoenix, Arizona, reported the first known cases of krokodil use in the U.S.
Users and abusers get a flesh-eating disorder after their skins turns green and scaly, hence the name “krokodil,” Russian for “crocodile.” The necrotizing flesh literally rots from the inside out (warning - very graphic images), exposing bone and requiring amputations. The results of krokodil use are antibiotic resistant disease and, as in many cases in Russia, a slow, agonizing, drawn-out death of decay and rot.
Just the ingredients should scare the average drug abuser away. Krokodil, known chemically as desomorphine, is made from codeine-based medications and red phosphorus, which are then combined with gasoline, alcohol, turpentine, iodine, paint thinner and hydrochloric acid and heated. It takes about two hours to make a batch.
Krokodil is a cheap method of replacing heroin. It produces a heroin-like high at one-third the price of heroin. The lengths a heroin addict will go through to get high, regardless of the results of their actions, are well-documented.
Russia reports an estimated 1 million krokodil users; because it is cheap to make, the drug is spreading to other European countries, and now to the U.S.
The mixture is “skin popped,” or injected into the skin — not veins — a method of introduction popular some years ago. The high begins to take effect as it absorbs into the blood stream. The flesh begins to rot due the impurities, mostly gas and oil, left behind when the drug is extracted from the mixture.
Those impurities cause the skin to turn gangerous, and fall off, while also causing blood vessels to burst. Porous bone tissue will be eaten up by acids in the drug.
According to a 2011 report in Time Magazine, the average life expectency of a krokodil user is no more than two to three years. Those who do survive are disfigured and suffer from motor skill imparements as a result of brain damange.
In Russia, as in many other countries, codeine is available without a prescription, making the primary ingredient in krokodil easy to obtain. In the U.S., codeine is only available via prescription and may slow down rising popularity, but it will certainly not stop it.
In 2010, the large number of krokodil abusers in Russia made this problem epidemic, but the recent appearance of Americans with krokodil-related flesh rotting suggests that the problem is about to become pandemic.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has cracked down on the over-prescribing of oxycontin, normally prescribed for chronic pain. The drug had replaced heroin, particularly in Florida, where about 75 percent of oxycontin prescriptions were being written by unscrupulous so-called pain clinics that charged up to $500 for an office visit, payable in cash only.
From those clinics a “patient” might get 200 pills with a street value of as much as $80 per pill, creating a tidy gross income of $16,000 from a $500 investment. This made the risk worthwhile to drug dealers, particularly if they made appointments with multiple doctors.
Reducing the availability of oxycontin made heroin sales skyrocket, as those who had previously replaced heroin with oxycontin returned to heroin.
Now, krokodil may fill the oxycontin void.
Necrotizing — rotting — flesh, a drastic result of krokodil use, requires chronic care and chronic expense. At the site of injuection, there is an instant rotting sore. Krokodil users become quickly addicted; addicts keep injecting, and their skin, muscle, connective tissues fall away until all that is left is bone, then death.
Krokodil joins a list of other “zombie” drugs, termed such because of their effects. These include such drugs such as bath salts and K2.
This article was written relying on a number of widely available reports available on the internet and from the writer’s personal knowledge of drug abuse.
Paul Mountjoy is a Virginia based writer and psychotherapist
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