The drug that many medical professionals and law enforcement agencies consider “the most dangerous in the world,” krokodil, is one that most people have never heard of in the United States.
Krokodil, Russia and Ukraine’s word for crocodile earned its name because the skin around injection sites turns green or black and scaly like crocodile skin.
Krokodil production is similar to making meth because it happens in makeshift, dirty labs using whatever chemicals are easiest to obtain. These chemicals are harmful and caustic to human skin and internal organs, causing skin irritation, infections, gangrene, and skin necrosis. Body parts of krokodil users occasionally autoamputate or die and rot off the body.
Knowing all of this, why do people willingly use krokodil? Cost, accessibility, and addiction. The active ingredients in krokodil are synthetic opioids like desomorphine, making it addictive and dangerous. Opioid addiction demands constant use to offset withdrawal symptoms, and krokodil is no different. Many who turn to krokodil because they cannot afford or find heroin end up suffering severe addiction and often lethal side effects.
What Is Krokodil?
Krokodil, desomorphine, is a highly addictive, dangerous homemade heroin substitute. Krokodil is an injectable drug that can vary in color but is typically a light brown liquid that users report can be mistaken for regular heroin.
Desomorphine is a semi-synthetic opioid ten times more potent and addictive than morphine, made by cooking codeine with organic solvents like paint thinner, gasoline, iodine, hydrochloric acid, or red phosphorous from the tips of matches. In the United States, desomorphine is a schedule I controlled substance. However, in the origin countries of krokodil, Russia, and Ukraine, the codeine used to make desomorphine is available over the counter.
Krokodil abuse first appeared in Russia and Ukraine in the early 2000s but has slowly spread through Europe. Since 2014, the United States has had 18 confirmed case reports of krokodil; 2022 has had no reported cases or deaths linked to krokodil. The United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) attributes the known krokodil use to people making it here instead of coming from overseas. The internet has made finding desomorphine and instructions for making krokodil easier, leaving the DEA and medical professionals anticipating an increase in krokodil in America.
Krokodil Street Names
Krokodil street names are generally variations on the effects it causes, namely reptile-like skin. Though medical providers also have slang names for krokodil that are more graphic.
Krokodil street names [in English] include:
- Zombie drug
- Flesh-eating drug
- Russian magic
- Poor man’s heroin
Krokodil Drug Effects and Warnings
Krokodil’s drug effects and warnings are similar to other potent opioids. However, krokodil has a short duration of action, causing krokodil addicts to shoot up frequently to maintain their high and avoid withdrawal symptoms.
The effects of krokodil include:
- Respiratory depression
- Burning sensation at the injection site
- Losing consciousness
- Memory loss
- Impaired reflexes
- Slurred speech
Krokodil is considered the world’s most dangerous drug because of how quickly the life-threatening side effects develop, including rotting and dead body parts that give rise to slang names like the flesh-eating drug or the zombie drug. On top of the damage caused by krokodil, injection drug users have an increased risk of HIV, hepatitis, and other bloodborne and bacterial diseases.
Complications and side effects krokodil drug users face:
- Soft tissue infections
- Permanent scarring and soft tissue damage
- Inflamed or blocked blood vessels
- Collapsed veins
- Skin lesions and ulcers
- Painfully swollen limbs
- Sleep deprivation
- Bone infection and bone death (osteonecrosis)
- Skin necrosis
- Autoamputation (body parts rotting off)
- Extreme oral and dental damage
- Dry, flakey, discolored skin, called krokodil skin
- Cartilage damage
- Heavy metal poisoning
- Medical amputation
- Liver damage
- Kidney damage
- Brain damage
Researchers have difficulty determining the long-term effects of krokodil use because many people who receive emergency treatment never seek follow-up care. The krokodil addicts they can track tend to die within two to three years after the first time they use krokodil.
Krokodil withdrawal can begin as soon as two to three hours after the last dose due to its short duration of action. Krokodil drug users suffer from opioid use disorder and will face similar withdrawal symptoms and risks.
Krokodil withdrawal symptoms include:
- Drug cravings
- Appetite changes
- Flu-like symptoms
- Body soreness
- Joint and bone pain
- Abdominal cramping
- Suicidal thoughts
The drug’s use causes severe wounds and infections requiring immediate medical attention. However, many krokodil users avoid seeking medical treatment out of shame and stigma.
Medical providers must help ease withdrawal symptoms that can come on rapidly while providing care to prevent people from leaving and returning to krokodil to self-medicate the pain and withdrawal.
People ready to seek addiction treatment for their krokodil addiction will be safest and benefit the most from entering a supervised medical detox program. During medical detox, a care team monitors vital signs while providing medical supervision and support throughout the withdrawal process to keep people safe and reduce the risk of relapse and developing protracted withdrawal syndrome.
Treatment for Krokodil Addiction in Northridge, California
When it comes to treating krokodil addiction, time is of the essence. If you or a loved one are ready to overcome addiction, immediate help is available. At Northridge Addiction Treatment Center, we strive to give every patient a genuine opportunity to reclaim their life.
At NATC, every resident in our care benefits from a customized treatment plan that addresses the unique underlying causes of their substance use and co-occurring disorders. Our experienced and compassionate team provides a nurturing, healing environment in our residential treatment facility, offering on-site medical detox with 24-hour medical care.
Our evidence-based treatments and therapies empower you with the skills, strategies, and self-reliance to overcome addiction and destructive behaviors.
Reach out today to speak with one of our caring treatment specialists to start on your path to meaningful recovery.
Our caring and compassionate specialists are eager to help you comfortably navigate this journey to recovery. Our individualized treatment plan, programs, and therapies may be a perfect match for you or your loved one. Let us assist you in living the happy life you deserve. It starts with a phone call.