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"Krokodil" flesh-eating drug makes appearance in U.S. (warning - graphic content)

Krokodil is made from over-the-counter codeine-based headache pills mixed with gasoline, paint thinner, alcohol or iodine. When a person injects the drug, it destroys tissue and turns the skin scaly and green.

Because of its effect on skin and muscle, it is called krokodil as in crocodile. It rots flesh and rots it fast. Gangrene and amputations are common, and the toxic mix dissolves jawbones and teeth, much like methamphetamine.

Pictures of users in Russia show blackened fingertips, large open wounds, and even exposed bone where skin has fallen off. Prolonged or even short-term use can damage blood vessels, muscle, cartilage, and bone, and amputation is frequently the only way to save a patient’s life.

The drug - chemically called desomorphine - became popular in Russia about 10 years ago as a cheap replacement for heroin. It costs about three times less than heroin, and produces a similar, but much shorter, high.

The first U.S. cases popped up in Utah and Arizona in late September. In the first two weeks of October, five more cases were discovered in Illinois. Some of the patients stated they learned how to manufacture the drug themselves, but in most of the cases the users thought they had purchased heroin.

In addition, the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics is investigating the deaths of two men in late 2012 as being caused by krokodil, and unconfirmed reports suggest that the drug has spread to New York City's nightclub scene.

One of the patients at Presence St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Joliet, Illinois, is a 25-year-old woman who has used heroin for 10 years. She started using krokodil a month ago, and is in extremely critical condition. 

Dr. Abhin Singla, an internist and addiction specialist, calls the drug “terrible. When she came in, she had the destruction that occurs because of this drug over 70 percent of her lower body." 

He added, “It’s very frightening. It almost immediately starts to destroy blood cells and blood vessels, literally causes gangrene from the inside of the body coming out.” Singla noted the average life expectancy after the first use of the drug is two years in Russia.

One recovering Russian krokodil addict, Irina Pavlova, told Time in 2011 that she injected the drug almost daily for six years. She has a speech impediment and impaired motor skills because of the resulting brain damage.

Her brother was among the dozen or so addicts she shot up with. "Practically all of them are dead now," she said. "For some it led to pneumonia, some got blood poisoning, some had an artery burst in their heart, some got meningitis, others simply rot."

Sources: Time Magazine, USA Today, CBS Chicago, The Partnership at Drugfree.org

Written by: Lisa Callaham
Posted: Nov 12, 2013 by Lisa Callaham

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