Krokodil – Dangerous ‘Zombie’ Drug Finding Its Way To The U.S.
News accounts of the party drug known as “molly” seem to have been replaced recently with reports of a much more frightening drug called krokodil. Health officials are now concerned that the synthetic drug, which is said to deliver a heroin-like high, has made its way into the United States. Physicians in Utah, Arizona, and, most recently, Illinois, have reported possible cases of krokodil use, putting drug addiction and health experts on alert.
Krokodil is a homemade version of a drug called desomorphine, which was developed in the 1930s as a morphine alternative. However, researchers found that it was up to 10 times stronger than morphine, so its use was discontinued. Illicit drug users now re-create desomorphine by using a base made from codeine, a narcotic used to relieve pain and suppress coughs.
The drug, which Time has called a “dirty cousin of morphine,” also contains a dangerous mix of alcohol, paint thinner, gasoline and lighter fluid. The mixture includes red phosphorus as well, a substance used in the striking pads of matchboxes. Iodine is another ingredient — one that often leaves addicts enveloped in a tell-tale heavy iodine odor that, as one Russian physician noted, can’t be washed out of clothing.
Krokodil can be easily concocted at home in about 30 minutes. Users inject krokodil wherever they find available veins on their body, from their head to their feet. Injecting the drug delivers a high quickly — in as little as five minutes. This is in contrast to the one to two hours it can take to get high from drugs in pill or capsule form.
This dangerous substance delivers a more potent high than heroin. However, the euphoric feeling doesn’t last as long, at anywhere from 90 minutes to two hours. Addiction occurs quickly, catapulting users into a never-ending cycle that moves from cooking the drug to getting high to cooking the next batch. Users interviewed for news accounts have reported going for days without sleep as they binged on krokodil.
Anyone who has seen the sensational-sounding online headlines about this drug addiction may have written them off as attempts by websites to generate traffic: “Zombie apocalypse drug reaches U.S.” or “Krokodil –The drug that eats junkies.” However, headlines like these are not exaggerations. The drug gets its name from its effect on the skin and underlying tissue. It’s believed the damage is caused not by the psychoactive ingredient desomorphine, but rather the caustic substances used in the concoction. These chemicals destroy blood vessels and tissue. Unsanitary drug cooking and injection practices also likely play a role in the destruction.
After krokodil is injected, blood vessels burst and tissue surrounding the injection site dies. As a result, the skin takes on a greenish, scaly appearance that mimics that of a crocodile, or krokodil in Russian. The process leads to open, festering wounds and infections as the skin rots from the inside out, eventually causing gangrene. Those with an addiction to krokodil can be left with dead skin that peels away to reveal tissue and bone underneath. Many users experience blood poisoning. The damage addicts suffer typically requires intensive wound care or skin grafts. Amputations are common.
Over time, the drug’s acidity also dissolves porous bone, especially in the jawbone and teeth. The effect has been compared to “meth mouth,” which is the unsightly rotting of the gums and teeth often seen in methamphetamine addicts. Chronic krokodil abusers frequently lose their teeth.
The average life expectancy of a krokodil addict is estimated to be very short at only two to three years. However, even those who are able to overcome the addiction are left with lasting and devastating physical effects. Krokodil causes brain damage in chronic users, leaving them with speech impediments and impaired motor skills, often in the form of jerky movements. In fact, the disjointed movements combined with addicts’ skin and tissue injuries have caused some to deem krokodil the “zombie” drug.
Krokodil In The U.S.
According to a report published in the Journal of Addictive Diseases, this homemade drug is believed to have first been used in Russia in 2003. For years, its use was confined largely to Russia and the surrounding countries that had been part of the Soviet Union. Experts estimate about 100,000 Russians have become addicted to krokodil and other illicit homemade drugs. By 2011, krokodil began moving into Germany and Norway. The ingredients are widely available, and users freely circulate recipes that make it easy to create batches on a home stove. It also costs a fraction of what users pay for heroin.
Currently, the U.S. incidents are being classified as possible cases; although the physical symptoms appear to be consistent with krokodil use, drug addiction experts have not been able to obtain samples of the drug, nor have they been able to get blood or urine samples that might confirm its use. Obtaining positive samples from addicts may be challenging because the body metabolizes the drug so quickly.
Because of the very serious side effects, treatment must start as soon as possible. Treating this addiction is a complex process, requiring a joint effort by physicians and addiction professionals. The obvious physical symptoms may require emergency care, making hospitalization necessary. As medical staff members try to stem the physical damage, a skilled addictions team will need to address the severe withdrawal symptoms.
Although the drug mimics the euphoric high of heroin, there are differences regarding withdrawal. Heroin’s physical withdrawal symptoms last about a week, while krokodil’s can draw out for as long as a month. Russian addiction experts say it causes such intense pain that it’s common to tranquilize patients during withdrawal. Addicts also experience seizures, fever, and vomiting.
Following withdrawal, a drug rehab team will start the addict on an intensive therapy program. Treatment will likely include extended inpatient rehab along with individual and group therapy. Long-term aftercare, including sober living, may also be part of the recovery plan. In addition, an addict might need physical or occupational therapy to address the physical aftermath of this addiction.
Krokodil addiction must be treated immediately by professional addiction treatment specialists. If you or someone you love is using this extremely dangerous substance, don’t wait to get help. Contact a drug addiction recovery center today.
Read More Russia’s Deadly Krokodil