Krokodil Use Reportedly Spreading in the United States

By Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. and world news. He is based in Maryland.
October 23, 2013 Updated: October 23, 2013

Krokodil use is reportedly spreading in the United States.

The potent and insane drug–users’ skin starts looking like a crocodile’s, and it opens gaping wounds on the body–has appeared in Joliet and Chicago in Illinois as well as Arizona.

The first cases thought to be reported in the United States were in late September, to the Banner’s Poison Control Center in Phoenix, Arizona. 

But three Joliet residents claim that they have been taking the drug for over a year, meaning that the drug has been around in the country for much longer than originally feared, and that use of the drug may be more widespread than reported. 

Krokodil is infamous for being popular in Russia.

It’s made using codeine, iodine, gasoline, paint thinner, hydrochloric acid, lighter fluid and red phosphorus.

The drug was dubbed Krokodil (crocodile) because of the scale-like appearance of its users, according to the New York Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services. The office notes that the drug is often high impure and since it is injected produces severe tissue damage, including injury to the veins.

Another possible impact is death.

Dr. Richard Friedman, director of the psychopharmacology clinic at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, told CBS that the drug is dangerous and potent.

“You’re poisoning yourself,” Friedman said. “It’s very corrosive and toxic.”

“I would say there should be an alarm bell about this drug, because above just the fact that its another opiate unlike any other opiate that we know about this, one is married to a series of dangerous poisons,” he added. “You can’t take this drug without actually poisoning yourself.”

Dr. Gerald Grosso, clinical director of Morningside Recovery in Newport Beach, Calif., also warned of the impact.

“When people are using this it’s not so much about getting a high anymore, it’s more about not going through withdrawals,” he said.

“We need to find out what is the underlying problem and how do we address it, as opposed to just treating symptoms,” he added.

The drug originally spread quickly in Russia and the Ukraine, where it’s hard to get heroin and other manufactured drugs.

The drug is made from codeine, and the active ingredient is reportedly desomorphine, according to a National Institutes of Health study. 

“But – given the rudimentary ‘laboratory’ conditions – the solution injected may include various opioid alkaloids as well as high concentrations of processing chemicals, responsible for the localized and systemic injuries reported here,” the study authors write. “Links between health care and law enforcement, stigma and maltreatment by medical providers are likely to thwart users seeking timely medical help.”