Krokodil, the flesh-eating substitute for heroin

With the recent news about Krokodil entering the United States, I figured it was time to make a blog post about this drug. If you are interested in Russian culture, then you probably already know about Krokodil. But do you really know how big of a problem it is, and WHY it is a problem? Be warned that this post contains some extremely graphic images that are the reality of what happens to thousands of people that use this drug every day.

Krokodil (Russian: крокодил) is a homemade, street version of the powerful painkiller desomorphine. Desomorphine is a derivative from morphine (i.e. it is an opioid) and has powerful fast-acting sedative and analgesic effects. It is 8 to 10 times more potent than morphine.

The traditional synthesis of desomorphine starts from a-chlorocodide which is obtained by reacting thionyl chloride with codeine. However, the street version of the drug is often synthesized from codeine, iodine, and red phosphorous in a process similar to illicit methampethamine production from pseudoephedrine.

The final street product often contains many impurities and is contaminated with toxic and corrosive byproducts. Common products like gasoline are often used as substitutes in the process of creating “Krokodil”, thus the effects of the drug are very harmful to the human body. Chronic users experience severe tissue damage, phlebitis (which is inflammation of the veins), and gangrene… and some users must have their limbs amputated.

The first case of Krokodil was reported in Siberia in 2002, and it has since spread all over Russia and neighboring countries that were former Soviet republics. There are estimates that about 100,000 people use Krokodil in Russia and 20,000 in Ukraine. However some even rate the numbers higher…as much as 1 million people in Russia alone.

You may be wondering why ANYONE would want to use this drug, knowing the harmful effects it can cause. The simple answer is addiction. Heroin is fairly hard to come by in Russia compared to the United States…and until recently, codeine was available in Russia without a prescription. So everyone in Russia that couldn’t do heroin (due to its availability and/or price) started using Krokodil (despite all of the harmful effects).

The high from heroin typically lasts 4-8 hours, while the high from Krokodil only lasts about an hour and a half. After the high goes away, the withdrawal symptoms set in soon afterwards. Addicts will start to become physically ill and cannot continue on with daily functions without getting another hit of the drug. This starts the cycle that eventually leads to death for many.

Looking at these pictures would deter most from trying this drug, but addiction is complex and most people can’t wrap their mind around the idea without experiencing it themselves. When these people use this drug, they experience a high which is usually unlike anything they can obtain without doing the drug again. Their arms and legs may be falling apart, but as long as they are high – they are temporarily pain-free and “okay” in the sense that their mind perceives themselves as being “okay” (only because they have the drug).

If you are American, and have read the news about Krokodil ‘crossing the sea into the United States’ you are probably somewhat worried about what will come of it here. Well, I’m here to tell you that there is nothing to worry about, unless you try the drug yourself. Articles like this one made me worry for the future of drug junkies in the United States, however articles like this one made me realize that in the United States we have different problems…and Krokodil isn’t one of them.

It is highly unlikely that Krokodil will catch on in the United States. Heroin is still quite easy to come by here (see the latest Fentanyl-laced heroin scare), and codeine-containing drugs have been regulated since the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. However, in Russia, heroin is much harder to come by and codeine wasn’t regulated until June 2012 (although desomorphine was made illegal in Russia in 1998). The United States has very different problems to tend to.

So look at all of these pictures with the sense that this is a Russian problem, and try to get some educational value out of it. Many humans are prone to addiction ranging from cigarettes and alcohol to methamphetamine and heroin. Restricting one drug only leads to the rise of another. Somehow, the problem needs to be killed at the source, and until we solve that problem, we will always struggle with these issues.

Image sources:,

One thought on “Krokodil, the flesh-eating substitute for heroin

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s