United States doctors and law enforcement officials are warning the public about a dangerous homemade narcotic that can cause human flesh to quickly decay and drastically reduce users’ life expectancy after the drug surfaced in Arizona.
Desomorphine, known in Russia as “krokodil,” or crocodile, is an extremely toxic drug made from codeine-based pills that are then mixed with iodine, paint thinner, gasoline, alcohol or oil. The concoction is injected, leading to a shorter but more powerful high that’s often found with heroin or morphine use.
While krokodil’s popularity quickly grew in Russia in the recent decade, as heroin is much more expensive and difficult to obtain, experts think it has made it to the southwestern United States.
“We’ve had two cases this past week that have occurred in Arizona,” Dr. Frank LoVecchio, the co-medical director at Banner’s Poison Control Center, told KLTV. “As far as I know, these are the first cases in the United States that are reported. So we’re extremely frightened.”
The drug is known for being heavily addictive, with just one or two injections needed to get someone hooked, as well as for its dire side effects.
With krokodil, users’ skin rots from the inside out, and they develop what is known as alligator skin, complete with visible scaly contusions. Long-time krokodil users literally have their skin fall off the bone due to ruptured blood vessels and damage to the surrounding tissues.
Irreversible damage to a krokodil addict’s health comes within a month of starting to use the drug, as the brain and liver also start to rot, and the limbs become paralyzed. A user’s average life expectancy does not exceed two to three years.
According to Russian anti-drug activist Yevgeny Roizman, who was earlier this month elected mayor of Yekaterinburg, krokodil is now one of Russia’s top homemade drugs. Roizman has for years campaigned for a ban on the unlimited distribution in Russian drugstores of codeine-based pills, which he says are widely used by dealers and addicts to make krokodil. The founder of the City Without Drugs and Country Without Drugs NGOs, Roizman has described horrific cases of krokodil use in his blog (accompanied by very graphic photos), saying that for many young Russians it becomes “the first and the last” drug.
The director of Russia’s Federal Drug Control Service, Viktor Ivanov, has admitted that the surge in desomorphine use across Russia correlated with the sharp increase of drugs containing codeine in drugstores. A legal ban on the non-prescription sale of such drugs in Russia came into force in 2012.
According to figures from Russia’s Bureau of Forensic Medical Examination, cited by Country Without Drugs, deaths in Russia from drug overdoses in 2012 rose by 20 percent. In total, some 150,000 Russians died from drug use last year, according to Ivanov, the Drug Control Service chief. Ivanov has estimated that in some regions of the country 90 percent of registered drug addicts use krokodil.
The use and preparation of krokodil has been spreading to countries neighboring Russia and farther into Europe, according to various media reports. In December 2011, Poland’s Medical University of Silesia reported at least one death from krokodil use in Warsaw, and also said cases of the drug being used had been confirmed in Germany, the Czech Republic, Ukraine, France, Belgium, Sweden and Norway.