What Is Krokodil?

Developed in Russia after the government crackdown on heroin made it almost impossible to find, krokodil is an opiate derivative that causes grotesque injuries and often-fatal overdose. It is powerful — stronger even than morphine — and produces painkilling and sedative effects in users. Krokodil is highly addictive, however, and those who abuse it sometimes develop gangrenous skin infections that end in amputation and sometimes, death.

What to Know About Krokodil

Russia’s proximity to Afghanistan — the world’s leading supplier of opium poppies, the chemical home of heroin, morphine and other opiate painkillers such as codeine — is one reason that opiate addiction is chronic problem in Asia. Krokodil produces a faster but shorter high than heroin but is often less pure. Krokodil producers use codeine in addition to dangerous household chemicals, lighter fluid, gasoline, paint thinner and other toxic substances in its production. The impurity of these toxic chemicals is the likely reason that users develop green, scaly skin at the site of injection.

In Russia, codeine — itself an addictive opiate painkiller — is available over the counter. It is easy for illicit manufacturers to create krokodil using over-the-counter drugs and common, but toxic, chemicals. Krokodil is a popular alternative to heroin in Russia when heroin becomes expensive; krokodil is not yet common in the United States. There are an estimated 1 million krokodil users in Russia alone.

Krokodil Addiction and Withdrawal

Krokodil, like all opiate-based drugs, is highly addictive and produces severe withdrawal symptoms in addition to gangrene and phlebitis (vein injury). Cravings, depression, severe nausea and vomiting, intense flu-like symptoms, anxiety and other extremely unpleasant side effects occur as the body weans itself off the drug. In addition, those who inject krokodil with dirty needles are more likely to contract diseases such as HIV and hepatitis. Recovering from krokodil addiction can be done but it is a lengthy, and often arduous, process that usually requires physical rehabilitation as well as psychological treatment.

The Russian government is considering how to end the krokodil problem. Possible solutions include making codeine a prescription-only medicine, banning websites that explain how to make the drug and strengthening enforcement and confiscation efforts. In the U.S., there are conflicting reports concerning whether or not the drug has reached the American community.

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