A flesh-eating drug that was discovered in Russia a decade ago has now made it’s way to the United States, according to ABC news. The drug, ‘krokodil’ – Russian for “crocodile” – is a street drug that is a cheaper version of heroin and similar to morphine.
Why do users call desomorphine ‘Krokodil’? It causes sores, tissue damage, and a rough, scale-like appearance to the skin.
Flesh-Eating Drug: What’s In Krokodil?
Desomorphine is a derivative of morphine and is eight to ten times more potent than morphine. Users can make Krokodil easily from ingredients found in home improvement stores and pharmacies - using codeine that is extracted from pills and mixed with other chemicals to create a liquid form that they can inject into their veins.
Some of the chemicals that users have mixed with codeine to get an injectable high include gasoline, paint thinners, hydrochloric acid, and products that contain phosphorous.
Krokodil Side Effects: Death
The side effects begin with the first injection, which produces a scar and death of the veins around the injection point. These chemicals are very acidic and cause the skin and fat to burn off, turn green, and die, which results in visible scarring of the skin. The chemicals used in krokodil also decrease the function of the immune system, resulting in the user not being able to fight off infections which can be prevalent among drug users.
Dr. Frank LoVecchio, co-medical director at Banner Poison, Drug and Information Center in Phoenix Arizona told ABC News that once a person starts taking this drug daily, within two years they can be dead because the body cannot fight off infections while taking krokodil.
Desomorphine User: Irina Pavlova
Irina Pavlova, a krokodil user, told her story to TIME Magazine in 2011. Pavlova used the drug every day for six years. Even though she is still alive, Pavlova has experienced severe side effects including a speech impediment, and deteriorating motor skills due to brain damage. According to TIME, her pale blue eyes have “something of a lobotomy patient’s vacant gaze.”
When asked about the friends that she used krokodil with, Pavlova said, “For some it led to pneumonia, some got blood poisoning, some had an artery burst in their heart, some got meningitis, others simply rot.”
Desomorphine in the U.S.
There are two cases in Arizona that may be tied to this flesh-eating drug. Two people have been hospitalized in Phoenix with symptoms of Krokodil and are the first known cases in the U.S. Other poison control centers from around the U.S. have said that they have seen people with similar symptoms as well, so the use of this toxic drug cocktail may be more prevalent than health officials know.
Treating the effects of Krokodil includes cleaning the skin and giving antibiotics. In severe cases, skin grafts, muscle grafts, or amputation maybe necessary to treat the infections.
Krokodil: Coming to America
Krokodil use began in Siberia and parts of Russia in 2002, but has spread throughout Russia in recent years. In 2010, officials estimated that about a million people were injecting this drug in Russia. Unfortunately, this drug has now entered into the United States.
Mendez, Stephanie. Flesh-Eating Street Drug from Russia Hits the US. ABC News. (2013). Accessed September 29, 2013.
Fox News. First cases of flesh-eating drug Krokodil surface in US. (2013). Accessed September 29, 2013.
Shuster, Simon. The Curse of the Crocodile: Russia’s Deadly Designer Drug. (2011). TIME Magazine. Accessed September 29, 2013.
Nicosia, Domenico. Arizona cases may be tied to flesh-eating drug. (2013). USA Today. Accessed September 29, 2013.© Copyright 2013 Janelle Vaesa, MPH, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Science