Medical Discovery News
By Norbert Herzog and David Niesel
As if designer drugs and bath salts were not enough, now drug users have another substance to abuse.
It’s called Krokodil, because it causes skin to turn green, bumpy and scaly at the injection site, like a crocodile’s skin. And what it does inside the body is just as bad.
Use of this drug began in Russia in 2002, and by some estimates, there at least 1 million users.
The chemical in Krokodil, desomorphine, was created in the U.S. in the 1930s as a less-addictive substitute for the painkiller morphine.
However, the new drug also proved to be highly addictive and even more potent.
Krokodil and heroin are both opiates, but Krokodil is much cheaper, about one-tenth of the cost of heroin, and less than one can of beer in Russia.
It is becoming the drug of choice among heroin addicts, but withdrawal from Krokodil addiction is far worse and takes much longer.
The ingredients of Krokodil include codeine, gasoline, paint thinner, lighter fluid and a few other ingredients that are readily available.
It takes only about an hour in a kitchen to prepare the drug. Codeine is also an ingredient in other drugs and is no longer sold over the counter in the U.S. or Russia to curb the spread of these.
Users inject Krokodil into a vein, and the subsequent high begins in 2 to 3 minutes and lasts from 90 to 120 minutes.
The first symptoms of addiction usually appear within five to 10 days.
Death normally follows in two to three years, but a single dose can be lethal for a predisposed person.
The veins into which this drug is injected may be destroyed, leading to blockage of blood flow.
If the drug is mistakenly injected into the skin, it will cause abscesses, which can degenerate the tissues and expose bone.
Users and physicians both describe “rotting of the skin and flesh” that creates extensive sores, especially on arms and legs.
Treatment for these sores is intensive, often involving skin grafts. It is relatively common for Krokodil addicts to develop gangrene that requires amputation.
Healing takes quite some time and it may take years before victims can do things like walk normally again.
The few addicts who manage to recover are often disfigured for life.
The acidic nature of the drug can lead to the deterioration of porous bones like those of the lower jaw.
The drug also can lead to brain damage, speech impediments, poor motor skills, pneumonia, burst blood vessels in the heart and meningitis.
The first two known cases of Krokodil use in the U.S. were documented by a poison control center in Phoenix in September 2013, followed by additional reports in other places including Oklahoma, Illinois, Ohio, Utah, Mexico and possibly New York.
Some people think they are getting heroin and may not know that they are getting a cheaper, more toxic drug before becoming addicted to it.
Officials fear this is only the beginning and that despite the warnings of its dangers, use will increase and with it, damage and death.
Professors Norbert Herzog and David Niesel are biomedical scientists at the University of Texas Medical Branch. Learn more at medicaldiscoverynews.com.