In recent reports, a young man turned himself into a rural drug and alcohol service in New South Wales, Australia seeking help for an infected arm. According to the patient, he had injected a drug known as Krokodil in his arm, causing it to swell and become infected. The drug was said to be unreported in Australia until this case.

So what is Krokodil?

For many people, Krokodil sounds like a vicious monster lurking in grassy swamps in a horror movie. The only difference is that this is a drug affecting many people these days. Krokodil is a street name for desomorphine which is a semi-synthetic drug that can be compared to heroin and morphine, in terms of its effects. The drug is described as “semi-synthetic” because it is created through a chemical process. It is primarily derived from codeine, which comes from the opium poppy.

Krokodil, like other opioids and heroin, has a sedative and analgesic effect to the body. This is why it is highly addictive to users. People who inject Krokodil usually develop infections, extreme ulcerations on the skin, and even develop gangrene. This gangrene becomes discolored, turning skin into a scaley grey, green or black, which resembles a crocodile. Because of this side effect, the name “krokodil” was coined. It is also known as Russian Magic as it has a short duration in terms of opioid intoxication.

Drug History

Not a lot of people know about this, but Krokodil has been in the market for quite some time. It was back in 1932 when desomorphine was first invented in the United States by scientists. These scientists created the drug to test the different effects of morphine on mice and rats. It was found that the drug was short-acting, but has a strong effect and is less nauseating than morphine. It is also reported that the drug was 8 to 10 times stronger than morphine in terms of its effect.

In 1934, the drug was first tested on patients suffering from cancer. The drug was given to see if it could control the pain that these cancer patients were experiencing. It worked, but only for a short time and lasted about 2-3 hours. They also found out that the drug did not last long, even though it was given at higher dosages. Krokodil has moved to Arizona, reports say: https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/news/20130930/krokodil-drug-faq#1

By 1981, desomorphine was used in Switzerland and Russia as a means to treat severe pain. It was under the brand name Permonid, but was stopped from being used since there were other drugs with more effective pain relief but with minimal side effects. Since then desomorphine is not currently used in medical practice because of the harm it can do to the body.

Desomorphine as Krokodil in Russia

In 2003, Krokodil became a popular drug in Russia for many users. This is because codeine was available even without any prescription and heroin was scarce at that time. So people turned to this drug to get their own fix. It became a popular drug used for mixing with paint thinner, red tips from matches, petrol and even hydrochloric acid. It is then heated in a process called “home bake” which basically means cooking the drug. Through this process, the drug becomes even stronger than codeine. Once the drug is cooked, it produces a strong acid-like smell.

Making a Comeback

Codeine was banned as an over-the-counter drug in Russia back in 2012. Because of this, Krokodil use was reported to decline. However, between 2013 until 2015, reports of Krokodil use began to resurface once more, spreading into the United Kingdom and even the United States. Reports stated that skin infections like gangrenes are said to be related to the drug. Not only that, but they also labeled Krokodil a flesh-eating drug that causes users to fall into a zombie-like state once it is injected.

Drug users who do not use clean needles, and have little knowledge about sterile injecting practices, can suffer from skin and vein infections. They can also other injuries caused by Krokodil which can be far more serious. If these side effects are not treated immediately, they could also some serious damage to a person. In fact, many medical cases regarding this drug identified the infections rot the skin to the bones.

Jaw osteonecrosis, which exposes the jawbone in the mouth, is among the most common kind of infection identified in these patients. Not only that, but skin ulcerations were also found in the person’s gums and mouth area. This is due to the fact that many drug users inject Krokodil into their mouths. Because of this, patients with severe infections must be operated on. Surgery is needed in order to cut the infected tissues and parts of the jawbones to prevent the spreading of the infection.

Other health hazards that could pose a threat to the drug user include the following:

  • Memory loss and impaired concentration
  • Liver and kidney damage
  • Overdose
  • Powerful respiratory depressant effect
  • Death
  • Blood vessel damage (thrombophlebitis)
  • Open ulcers, gangrene
  • Skin and soft tissue infections
  • Need for skin grafts and surgery
  • Limb amputations
  • Pneumonia
  • Blood poisoning
  • Meningitis
  • Rotting gums or tooth loss
  • Blood-borne virus transmission (HIV and HCV due to needle sharing)
  • Bone infections (osteomyelitis) and osteonecrosis
  • Speech and motor skills impairment

Krokodil Users Reported in Australia

In 2016, there were no concerns over Krokodil as reported by the health representatives and police in Australia. However, the public was indeed warned of the possibility that there could be people using the said drug. Reports never came up among drug monitoring programs. The incident regarding Krokodil that was reported in New South Wales is believed to be more of a drug business solution for dealers due to the shortage of opioid rather than large widespread manufacture and use of the drug. It’s less likely that the drug is used by many people in Australia. However, it is still good to watch out for this, as it could be spread by people quite easily due to its addictive properties.

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