Catching the krokodil

Over the last few months somewhat sensational media reports have appeared discussing a cheap Russian heroin-like drug nicknamed ‘krokodil’ due to it causing scaly lesions at the site of injection.

It has been variously headlined as a ‘designer drug’ or ‘the drug that eats junkies’ but until now it has not been discussed in the scientific literature.

For the first time, however, a short article has appeared with more details, and has just been published in Clinical Toxicology by three Russian resesarchers.

The main part of the article is reproduced below edited to remove the references.

“Crocodile” is a street name of drug containing mainly desomorphine (Dihydrodesoxymorphine-D), produced in home conditions by simple synthesis from codeine, most often on the basis of codeine-containing medicines, in Russia available over-the-counter so far. Desomorphine presents sedative and analgesic effects; it is 8–15 times more potent than morphine, and has weaker toxic, convulsant, emetic and respiratory depression action.

The drug is administered intravenously or intramuscularly. It has very fast onset of action (2–3 min) and a short duration of action (2 h). First symptoms of addiction usually appear after 5–10 days. From intake of the first dose, death comes maximally after 2–3 years, but even single dose may be lethal for predisposed person. High toxicity is caused by the presence of impurities. Skin in the places of injections becomes grey and green, scabrous, flakes off, so it resembles the skin of crocodile. Postproduction impurities (residues of acids and alkalis, petroleum derivatives, industrial oils, organic solvents, red phosphorus, iodine, heavy metals) act irritant on vessels which become damaged and afterwards obliterated.

It causes peripheral limb ischemia with following necrosis, often secondarily infected, which require surgical intervention and even limb amputations. So this drug “bites” the limbs, as a real crocodile. Addicted people may be recognized by the smell of iodine, used during drug production. “Crocodile” generally is similar to so-called “Polish heroin” (“compote”)— drug produced also in home conditions from poppy straw, popular in Poland till the late 1990s.

The “crocodile” is cheap (costs less than one can of bear), so it is very popular and is used mainly by poor opiate drug addicts in Russia. Its production developed at the time of restriction of heroin trafficking from Afghanistan. According to current estimates, in Russia there are 100—250 thousands of people addicted to “crocodile.” About 30 thousands of people die per year.

The presence of this drug was confirmed in Germany (among immigrants from Russia), Czech Republic, Ukraine, France, Belgium, Sweden and Norway. Unofficially, one fatal poisoning of 23-year-old man from Warsaw in Poland, in December 2011, is suspected, but we don’t know details yet, because of lasting investigation. With people migration, we should expect single cases of “crocodile” use in countries, where it is not present at this moment.

Oddly the article has translated the Russian ‘krokodil’ into ‘crocodile’ for the article, despite the fact it is more widely known by its original spelling.

Interestingly though, it seems that the drug is another in the line of nasty highs that can be synthesised by anyone with household ingredients and a single container (the other being the single bottle methamphetamine synthesis).

Link to locked short Clinical Toxicology article.
Link to Wikipedia on krokodil and desomorphine.

12 thoughts on “Catching the krokodil”

    1. Isn’t it amazing (or perhaps entirely predictable) that making heroin illegal hasn’t improved things, but instead has encouraged development of these “nasty highs” from home-based synthesis?

  1. scary, and definitely murder… the first question asked to the recipient of the cash would be “how could you?!” It’s awful…

  2. Actually, considering the widespread amount of depression in Russia, along with accompanying levels of alcohol addiction, I’m surprised the problem with krokodile isn’t already much worse. Just like with rampant meth use here, there’s usually a good reason why some folks try to “escape” everyday life, and addiction is only a symptom!

  3. Hi we have a similar problem in South Africa with a drug called Tik, not sure if I may add a website but do have a look at it and would be intresting to see if Mind Hacks can do a ariticle on it.

  4. I first heard about this drug last year. I try to check every few months for new news stories about it but I haven’t seen any. I am very surprised that a drug this nasty isn’t getting global coverage!

    1. Let’s face it: there are so many scary things going on in the world today that one doesn’t quite know which way to turn. The thing is that most of these trends go underground because they really DON’T want to be in the headlines. I’d say that it is really up to each individual to decide at their moment, what to do about a situation, and try to find either a solution, or a group of people who have the funds and the manpower to do something about a particular situation. Each individual to can do much to promote and highlight dangers and join forces with those who try to stop the dangers from reaching our growing children. Be strong and don’t give up.

  5. i am a mother… i dred for the future of my children. my only hope is that i can give my children enough strength within, and educate them. guide them in the right way-and wish for no one to lead them astray.. every night i pray for the man above to hold his eye close to us, to my children. the krokodil is just plain and simple murder… the differense is that the killer is the addict himself. i have one wish for all man and woman -to heal, and find life instead. there is room for everyone. i wish for all to find love and respect, to find acceptance and comfort. to feel safe… to feel strong enough to say no to drugs -there is always a way out of abuse…. how hard it might be…but turn the back to drugs- let no one harm your valuable life-familiy and friends and work and sport can give u so much more than the next hit. karma and thoughts and positive energie sent out in the world from my heart. believe!!

    1. thank you so much for sharing… just tonight i was meditating for a moment on how much love my Ma’s have given me and still give me, no matter what, and how, without them, i wouldn’t have survived at all… and with your Fathers’ heavenly eyes on your family, friends, and neighbours, next door and in the next country, i can believe that the miracle of love will see you through it all… i respect Mom’s greatly, for they are the first instruments of the Creator (most cases) to nuture the child, and their first taste of Love… may you continue to hold fast and warmest wishes to you for sharing… it’s important to know that even though there are some women who give birth to children and do not care, that on the other spectrum, there are billions of women who totally outnumber the “bad” moms and will go to great lengths to move the world for love for their children…

  6. Terrifying. Even scarier that it’s in the USA now. My son is so young still and the world is so cruel and evil. Scares me soo badly.

  7. My question as a heroin addict and an iv user is how soon can yoo know if this drug was cut into the heroin what do early signs look like I have a fear I may have used it without even knowing

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