Desomorphine is a derivative of the opiate codeine that is commonly injected. On the black market, the drug is commonly referred to as Krokodil or Crocodile. Krokodil is a substance that first appeared near the beginning of the century in Siberia and has spread into other regions of Russia since then.
It is thought that the name “Krokodil” manifested in reference to changes in the appearance of a user’s skin produced by regular use. Krokodil is a very corrosive substance that can cause an addict’s skin to become green, bumpy, and scaly, like a crocodile. If the user misses a vein and administers the drug into the flesh, infected sores are likely to form.
It is also common for addicts to be stricken with gangrene and warrant amputation. The flesh on certain body parts may become necrotic and rot off or altogether, exposing bone.
Desomorphine is an opioid categorized as a Schedule I substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), indicating that it is considered to have a very high potential for abuse and no legitimate medical purpose. In its purest form, desomorphine is up to 8-10 times more potent than morphine and also has a faster onset of action (in 3 minutes or less) and shorter half-life.
These factors account for its extreme potential for addiction. Likewise, the fast elimination half-life can drive those dependent on Krokodil to inject more frequently to prevent withdrawal symptoms.
An Inexpensive Heroin Alternative
Reports have suggested that Krokodil use has spread rapidly across certain parts of Russia, with possibly hundreds of thousands of individuals having injected the substance in recent years. The drug has also infiltrated nearby countries such as the Ukraine and Kazakhstan. Although use appears to be mostly centered in post-Soviet regions, countries like Germany and Norway have also reported Krokodil use. Most recently, incidents were found as far away as Australia.
Krokodil is derived from codeine and medications that consist of codeine. In drug markets like those in Russia, where heroin can be difficult to allocate, some have turned to Krokodil as an alternative. Moreover, Krokodil has frequently been used as a substitute for heroin because of its low cost and increasing accessibility.
In general, Krokodil may appeal to those seeking an intense heroin-like high that is easily obtainable and affordable. Effects can last for as long as two hours and include euphoria, sedation, and significant pain relief.
Users have reported that Krokodil can be created in around 45 minutes using codeine and a minimum amount of equipment. Like homemade methamphetamine, users often include several toxic ingredients in Krokodil, such as gasoline, hydrochloric acid, and household cleaning products.
Effects of Krokodil
Krokodil’s effects can be disastrous and life-threatening. Injection of this substance has been associated with the following complications:
- Skin and soft tissue infections
- Thrombophlebitis, or vein inflammation
- Necrosis, or the mass death of cells in an organ or tissue
- Skin ulcers
When desomorphine is injected, it can cause severe injury to veins and result in localized infections, which may eventually spread to other bodily areas and result in organ damage. If some body parts, such as the limbs, are severely infected, health providers may need to perform extensive surgery up to and including amputation.
Because Krokodil is often a do-it-yourself-at-home opiate, the conditions in which it is produced can also include numerous other health risks. Users manufacturing the drug often share equipment and syringes for intravenous administration. The sharing of needles increases an individual’s risk of contracting HIV, hepatitis B and C, and other bloodborne infections.
Also, because Krokodil is a substance with a short half-life often used in a binge-like fashion throughout the day, this can dramatically increase the likelihood that non-sterile syringes will be used. Even short-term Krokodil use cause severe health consequences and fatality. Death for long-term users is common within 2-3 years of the initial dose, but even one use can be lethal in some instances.
Desomorphine: the “Zombie Drug”
Krokodil has frequently been referred to as a “zombie drug” by the media. Many publicized reports of desomorphine use have profiled affected individuals having gangrene or dead patches of skin on their body, which may in many ways mirror what we think of as having a zombie-like appearance. Also, Krokodil users’ skin can become green, grey, or even black and be flaky, scabby, and scaly.
Is Krokodil in the U.S.?
A few sensationalist reports about Krokodil’s possible appearance in the United States are mainly based on a small number of suspected cases. Fortunately, at the time of this writing, however, neither the DEA nor the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) had confirmed any instances of Krokodil use in the country or considered the drug a current threat.
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