An highly addictive and destructive drug concocted using lighter fluid, paint thinner, matchboxes, and codeine tablets has made its way from Russia to America — and it now appears to be spreading.
Known as krokodil ("crocodile" in Russian), the drug can turn skin greenish and scaly by destroying tissue and blood vessels. It originated in Russian in 2003 as an inexpensive substitute for heroin.
Last month doctors in Arizona treated patients who said they had taken the drug, and this week a doctor in Illinois says that he has treated at least three patients who reported use of the drug and presented its symptoms.
“It is a horrific way to get sick. The smell of rotten flesh permeates the room," Dr. Abhin Singla, director of Addition Services at Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet, Ill., told The Times Weekly. "Intensive treatment and skin grafts are required, but they often are not enough to save limbs or lives.”
Krokodil's psychoactive agent, desomorphine, was first synthesized in the U.S. in 1932 as a less nauseous and less addictive substitute for morphine. But desomorphine is actually eight to 10 times as potent as morphine and may be more addictive because its effects are more rapid.
Max Ehrenfreund of The Washington Post notes that about 10 years ago, Russians discovered how to synthesize desomorphine at home using codeine, paint thinner, lighter fluid, hydorcloric acid, and red phosphorous (which can be gleaned from the sides of matchboxes).
The resulting drug, which is usually taken intravenously, is devastating to the body. (The pictures are horrifying.)
“When you use the krokodil . . . really what you’re doing is injecting red phosphorus and solvents into your body,” Matt Zuckerman, a toxicologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, told the Post.
In 2011 Vice produced a documentary called " Krokodil Tears ," which show heroin addicts turning to krokodil by using ingredients available at ordinary pharmacies.
Habitual users in Russia often die within 2 years of starting the drug.
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