Desomorphine (or Krokodil) is an opioid with powerful, fast-acting sedative and analgesic effects. It is essentially a moonshine version of the widely-known drug heroin, but it’s no joke, most heroin users are frightened by Krokodil and want nothing to do with the drug and it’s terrifying effects.

So what are these side effects of Krokodil that make it so horrifying? Well, the street name of ‘Krokodil’ derives from the Russian for Crocodile. The drug is given that name due to the notoriously severe tissue damage incurred by chronic users… Addicts’ skin literally becomes crocdile-like; first turning scaly and dry, before turning grey and eventually rotting right off their bodies.

This is an image of a Krokodil user's legs in the early stages of taking the drug. Any images of the more advanced stages of usage are way too graphic.

This is an image of a Krokodil user’s legs in the early stages of taking the drug. Any images of the more advanced stages of usage are way too graphic.

The drug has attracted international attention in recent times due to a massive increase in consumption in Eastern Europe and Russia. It has been estimated that around 100,000 people use Krokodil in Russia and around 20,000 in Ukraine.

So, how can a drug that literally rots your skin become popular in a powerful country like Russia?

The story goes that when the Soviet Army entered Afghanistan in 1979, engaging in a brutal 10 year conflict; the Afghan opium trade was kick-started. In an attempt to fund the fight against the Russians, Afghanistan sold opiate drugs, in particular heroin, all over the world. But in a twist, the main customers of the opium was, in fact, the Russians themselves.

However, even when the Soviet Union fell in 1991 and the Russian Army’s war with Afghanistan ended, Russia’s heroin problem continued to grow and they are now the world’s largest consumer of heroin.

So where does Krokodil come in? Well, heroin, like most Class A drugs, is expensive to buy; and although a wealthy and powerful nation, the distribution of wealth in Russia is overwhelmingly askew, with much of the population living below the poverty line. And so, with people unable to afford a severely addictive, difficult to procure drug, they have turned to concocting a synthetic version of it – Krokodil.

Apparently the drug is easily made from an combination of cheap, over-the-counter pharmacy products: codeine, iodine from OTC medications and red phosphorus from match strikers. These ingredients are contaminated with various toxic and corrosive byproducts such as gasoline, paint thinner and lighter fluid, making the drug highly impure.

On top the fact it rots the users’ skin… the high that users are attempting to gain from Krokodil, although much more intense than heroin, is brief at best. While the effects of heroin usage can last four to eight hours, the effects of Krokodil do not usually extend past one hour, with the symptoms of withdrawal setting in almost immediately after the high has worn off. And the users’ know how bad it is for you… A Russian Krokodil addict: Zhenya has recalled how “you can feel how disgusting it is when you’re doing it,” going on to say that when using “you’re dreaming of heroin, of something that feels clean and not like poison. But you can’t afford it, so you keep doing the krokodil. Until you die.” If you think about it, that’s a pretty harrowing thing to say – willingly taking something that you don’t really want, knowing it’s literally poisoning you to death. Heavy duty stuff to say the least.

Scarily, this heroin substitute is now not just isolated to Russia. It is believed to have made the switch to the US with a number of cases being reported in Arizona. Officials in the state fear they may be seeing the beginning of an epidemic after two people in just one week attended hospitals suffering the devastating symptoms of the drug.

Krokodil is going global.

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