Krokodil in America: What You Need to Know About the New Drug


A synthetic drug from Russia has reached the United States for the first time after reports of two cases involving the drug were discovered in Phoenix. Desomorphine, usually referred to by its street name krokodil, was first discovered a decade ago in Siberia where it was used as a cheap alternative to heroin. It had quickly spread throughout Russia, and had largely remained a domestic problem until reports of fatalities spread to other Eastern European countries over the past several years. By 2010, an estimated 1 million people in Russia were reported to have been using krokodil.

Krokodil isn't terribly difficult to produce, thus its popularity. It is also much cheaper than heroin; while one dose of heroin may cost as much as €50 (about $67.70), krokodil can be had for only about €5 (approx. $6.70) per dose. The primary ingredients in Krokodil are codeine, iodine, and red phosphorus mixed with other household chemicals such as hydrochloric acid, paint thinner, turpentine, and gasoline. Although the high from krokodil is similar to that of heroin, it lasts much shorter, only around 90 minutes compared to the three to four hour highs heroin causes. Unlike heroin, however, krokodil isn't always injected directly into the veins, but via a method known as skin popping, where the drug is injected into the skin.

The combination of the relatively short high and the ease in which krokodil can be produced (cooking up a batch takes only a couple hours), users remain stuck in a cycle of cooking and injecting 24 hours a day. The use of krokodil is known to cause horrific effects on the body, including turning the skin to a green and scaly complexion (hence its street name), gangrene, and eventually death within two to three years. For those that mange to survive, brain damage and physical deformities can also occur.

At least in Russia, attempts at rehabilitation are extremely difficult due not only to the crippling addiction and short lifespan of the user, but to a lack of treatment facilities. The Russian government has dragged its feet on tackling the problem, and religious organizations have as a result picked up the slack. The evangelical Christian minority run about 500 drug rehabilitation clinics throughout the country.

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Frank Lopapa

Graduate of the John C. Whitehead School of Diplomacy and International Relations, specializing in International Security and Global Negotiation and Conflict Management. Guest contributor to international affairs magazine Diplomatic Courier. When not writing about security issues for Policy Mic, I cover Italian soccer for Forza Italian Football, among other places.

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