Krokodil Hits the U.S.

krokodilThe newest addictive drug to reportedly hit the United States is a flesh-eating one: Krokodil.[1] It takes its name from the green scale-like appearance of the skin that users experience after injecting it.1 Initially reported in Russia in 2003, its prevalence is estimated to be around five to seven percent among people who inject drugs in Russia and Ukraine.1 However, has Krokodile really hit the U.S. or is it simply a big hype?1

Krokodil is derived from alpha-chlorocodide, an intermediate compound during its production from codeine.1  A mixture of substances, it’s primary opioid component is desomorphine, and it is highly impure due to its contamination with multiple toxic ingredients used during its production.1 Desomorphine was originally developed in the United States in 1932 and is 10 times more potent than morphine.1 It was marketed in Switzerland until 1952, as a postoperative analgesic.1 As it had a rapid onset of action and a shorter elimination half-life, it was incredibly addictive and led its users to use more often compared with heroin users.1

Users of the drug have been treated for symptoms consistent with its use: thrombophlebitis, skin and soft tissue infections, tissue necrosis, and gangrene.1 Krokodil addicts often die within two years of becoming addicted.1

In September of 2013, reports from Phoenix claimed that local hospitals treated two people for symptoms of Krokodile use, after which USA Today reported that “Flesh-rotting ‘Krokodil’ Drug Emerges in USA.”1 Since then, Time magazine has published a handful of articles on suspected reports of Krokodile use in the US.1 CNN has also published several stories about its suspected use in Illinois.1 However, all of these reports have one thing in common: suspected use.1

In January, Drug Enforcement Administration spokesperson Joseph Moses declined that toxicology reports have confirmed desomorphine use in reported cases.1 It has yet to hit our soil.1 But why? In Russia and Eastern Europe, heroin prices are high, and the price of codeine is low, leading to the popularity of Krokodil.1 In the United States, heroin is much more easily obtained, and codeine-containing tablets are harder to obtain due to stricter prescription laws in America.1

While Krokodil use may have not reached America yet, the hype certainly has.1 The drug has captured the public’s imagination and fear, being perceived as far more prevalent than it really is.1

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