I worked in chemical dependency treatment programs for over 25 years. A common phenomonon would occur after the overdose death of a heroin addict. Other addicts would inquire what “brand” of heroin had been used and they would seek it out, rather than avoid it.
Recently I’ve received several inquiries about Krokodil, and I’d like to share some thoughts with you. Often when adolescents hear about a new drug or drug use trend, they don’t react in the same way that you and I probably would. Their brains are wired to seek out novel experiences and they see risky behaviors as exciting, not frightening.
Therefore, after an initial exploration I decided to conduct a secondary search as a curious adolescent would, Googling terms such as “Krokodil recipes”, “how to make Krokodil” and the like. Fortunately, most of the sites turning up in the search basically said “What are you, crazy? This stuff will make your flesh fall off and kill you!”
I couldn’t find information supporting manufacture and use in the U.S. However, Krokodil is a huge problem in Russia, and worth knowing about. In October 2011, indications of krokodil use were found in Germany, with some media outlets claiming several dead users.
Desomorphine is an opiate analogue invented in 1932 in the United States that is a derivative of morphine. It has sedative and analgesic effects, and is around 8-10 times more potent than morphine. To produce the potentially deadly drug, which has a comparable effect to heroin but is much cheaper to make, users mix codeine with gasoline, paint thinner, iodine, hydrochloric acid and red phosphorous (obtained from matchboxes). The process is similar to the manufacture of methamphetamine from pseudoephedrine, but desomorphine made this way is highly impure and contaminated with various toxic and corrosive byproducts.
The street name in Russia for home-made desomorphine made in this way is "krokodil" reportedly due to the scale-like appearance of skin of its users, and it is used as a cheaper alternative to heroin.Since this mix is routinely injected immediately with little or no further purification, "krokodil" has become notorious for producing severe tissue damage, phlebitis and gangrene, sometimes requiring limb amputation in long-term users. The amount of tissue damage is so high that addicts' life expectancies are said to be as low as two to three years.
Photographs of late-stage krokodil addicts are disturbing in the extreme. Flesh goes grey and peels away to leave bones exposed. Those large pieces of dead skin are referred to as eschars, leaving the user prone to infection, amputation and other complications.
Krokodil users are instantly identifiable because of the iodine smell that infuses all their clothes. Unlike heroin, where the hit can last for several hours, a krokodil high only lasts between 90 minutes and two hours. Given that the "cooking" process takes at least half an hour, being a krokodil addict is basically a full-time job.
The recent recession in the United States has driven many drug users - particularly teens and the poor - to find cheaper alternatives to their drug habits. Illegal street drugs are likely to be too expensive for teens that don’t usually have regular incomes. Many young people and adults have turned to abusing prescription drugs and over-the-counter (OTC) medications to support their habits.
Krokodil has 3 things going for it that could attract users in the U.S.:
- It has roughly the same effect as heroin (a depressant that affects the brain’s pleasure systems and interferes with the brain’s ability to perceive pain), but is more powerful.
- The cost is three times cheaper than heroin.
- It is easy to make (cook) from items found in most households.
Too many kids think taking OTC drugs in excess won’t hurt them, but they couldn’t be more wrong. Keep ALL medicines and like items locked up where kids and young people can’t access them. Don’t leave meds in your purse, on the nightstand or on the breakfast table where a teen can easily take a few at a time without anyone noticing.
Keep paint thinners, gasoline and other products locked up in the garage where no children or teens can gain access to them. Be sure to keep track of your keys to padlocks, too. Keep a locked gas cap on your vehicles. Don’t leave matchboxes lying around and dispose of them by tearing up the striking pads.
Watch your teen for any tell-tale signs of drug use: strong odors of cleaners, solvents or anything abnormal. Listen for drug slang terms. Look for sores on the skin and notice if he or she wears long-sleeves or pants even in hot weather. It’s the little things often overlooked that will stand out as clues to the parent who’s well-aware and informed.
If you think your teen, child or other loved one is secretly (or openly) using drugs, get professional help immediately through the family doctor or local treatment center.
Cheryl De Paolo