Understanding the Dangers of Krokodil

January 21, 2014

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The Dangers of Krokodil are Painful and Deadly

Most people are keenly aware of the fact that substance abuse, whether it be heroin, cocaine, alcohol, prescription medication or countless other options, can be extremely dangerous, possibly even fatal. However, the notion that something that a user willingly injects into his or her veins causes them to decompose from the inside out, just sounds like something out of a horror movie.

However, this is what happens to people who inject “Krokodil,” also known as Desomorphine. The first reports of this narcotic came from Russia, where it also got its name. Translated in Russian, the name Krokodil means “crocodile”. The reason that the drug received that name is because at the site of injection, the skin often looks scaly and green. Most users will die within years, and both amputations and gangrene are common problems.

A Problem that is Coming Here

While it might have been the “stuff of legends” in Russian news for years, there have been reports of Krokodil use in the United States, including in trendy Manhattan nightclubs, Illinois and Arizona. As is to be expected, experts are more than a little concerned about this development. Despite the fact that some are suggesting that this drug might not take hold here, remember that recent CDC reports show that many more Americans struggling with dependence are switching to heroin. This is a prelude to what happened in Russia.

Russia has a large number of heroin addicts. In fact, the estimated worth of the heroin market in Russia stood at approximately $6 billion just last year. Many of those people struggling with heroin addiction in Russia are unable to get help, even basic government sponsored programs are often not available.

After prolonged heroin abuse, chances are that the user is not going to be duly employed anymore, putting a strain on the purchasing power of the user. At the same time, the Russian government noticed that a change was necessary, and decided to go after the suppliers. As a result, both parties were actively seeking a cheaper, more readily available alternative to heroin. This led to the development of Krokodil, a drug that one can make relatively easily using red phosphorous, hydrochloric acid, iodine, paint thinner, gasoline and codeine.

What Causes the Gruesome Injuries?

As you can read from the list of ingredients, many of these are household products. Until recently, codeine was readily available for all Russians. The problem is that when people make it, it may contain toxic substances left over from the cooking process. The person who makes the drug never purifies it.

This can lead to tissue damage in the flesh and the veins of the user, which could lead to gangrene. This means that the bodily tissue begins to rot and then dies off. Despite the fact that it sounds horrific and is excruciatingly painful, most users do not have to suffer long. Most of them die within two to three years after first using Krokodil.

Why this Might be a Serious Problem Later On

It is important to remember that more and more Americans are substituting heroin for prescription medication such as OxyContin. According to the recent statistics, the number of Americans who admit to using heroin increased by 53.5 percent between 2002 and 2011. The most recent estimate (provided in 2011) puts the figure at about 620,000 Americans who struggle with an addiction to this dangerous substance.

While this may be a significantly lower number than the reported number of addicts in Russia (estimated to be at least 1.5 million, partly because of Russia’s close proximity to Afghanistan’s poppy fields) it is important to note that the American statistics are rising steadily.

One of the Reasons Why it Might Not Be as Serious

One of the few positives to learning more about Krokodil is that while dependent Americans might soon be searching for different ways to feed their heroin addiction once they are unable to pay for it, Krokodil is not likely to be the replacement substance. The reason behind this is that codeine (a key ingredient in the drug) was relatively easy to obtain in Russia, but the Controlled Substances Act usually lists it as a Schedule III or IV substance in the US. This means that it requires a prescription, something that certainly does not make it easy to obtain.

This means that the startup culture is simply not available in North America as it is (was) in Russia. Meanwhile, Russia has started taking steps to reduce the spread of the problem as well, ensuring that products that contain codeine cannot be sold over the counter.

If Not Krokodil – Something Else

Despite the fact that the average person may look at the sight of flesh falling off the bones and immediately decide that this is nothing they would ever want to try, remember that it is not that simple for people struggling with addiction. Many of the heroin users in Russia that switched to Krokodil admit that they knew what they were doing was dangerous, likely to be fatal, but that does not mean that they are able to stop. The reward center of the brain is so enriched by the drug that they have a limited ability to stop using. They would need professional drug treatment in order to get better, something that Russia is sorely lacking.

However, something that we can take away from this dangerous drug is the fact that people struggling with addiction are not merely going to give up using just because they are unable to pay for their habit. They will find alternative methods to get their fix, which is what we are seeing with Krokodil. With many Americans already switching to heroin when they lose access to OxyContin, we have to keep in mind that if it is not Krokodil, it will be something else when these addicts are no longer able to afford heroin. The fact that these users are injecting themselves with something that can destroy them from the inside out is a clear indicator that punishment and punitive damages will do nothing to deter these users; they need professional drug rehabilitation options.

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