Krokodil: A deadly drug designed from Russia

Krokodil, a home-made substitute for heroin,has dreadful effects on its users. Russia has more heroin users than any other country in the world.

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Krokodil’ is a more popular name for desomorphine amongst addicts. Desomorphine is an opiate-like drug which is similar to heroin and is a synthetic derivative of morphine. It was used in Switzerland and Russia to treat pain as it was an effective sedative and a lot more potent, resulting it towork faster than morphine.

Desomorphine was originally used as a patented drug in the 1930s and was briefly manufactured and sold as ‘Permonid’ by a Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche until it was declared as an illegal narcotic or ‘Schedule I substance’ in 1998 by the Drug Enforcement Administration (US). One of the main problems was that its effect lasted for a shorter duration but it was highly addictive and its side-effects were severe and more common.

However, in the early 2000s, the drug returned in Siberia (Russia) as Krokodil, a home-made substitute for heroin. It takes about 30 to 35 minutes to brew this drug. The main active ingredient of Krokodil is desomorphine which can be easily manufactured at home from codeine. It is then mixed with hydrochloric acid, paint thinner, iodine, gasoline, lighter fluid or red phosphorus (matchbook striking surfaces). Codeine tablets are readily available without a prescription in Russia which makes the process more convenient.


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The use of Krokodil has some appalling effects on its users. Its short-term effects include relaxation, euphoria, slow and shallow breathing, besides pain and swelling at the injection site. Its long-term effects are blood clots, swollen veins, severe tissue damage, memory loss, speech impairment and dependence. However, its most severe consequence is the greenish and the scaly appearance of the damaged and rotting skin which resembles like that of the crocodile and thus giving the drug its name (Krokodil).

When injected, it starts eating the body of the patient from the inside out, causing blood vessels to burst, and the tissues around it to die.

Krokodil destroys body tissues and forms large sores that can sink deep into the bones, therefore, it is also known as the ‘drug that eats junkies’ or ‘flesh-eating’ drug. A person survives for only 2 to 3 years after taking this drug.

Another reason that makes Krokodil extremely harmful is the short period of time for which it shows its effect. To avoid the onset of withdrawal symptoms, addicts are stuck in a continuous cycle of making and injecting the drug, avoiding pretty much everything else.

Russia has more heroin users than any other country in the world up to two million, according to unofficial estimates. Viktor Ivanov, the head of Russia’s Drug Control Agency, estimated that about 100,000 people in Russia are dependent on either krokodil or other home-made drugs. He confirmed that almost 30,000 people are killed due to heroin addiction, each year, in Russia.

In comparison to heroin, where the hit can last for several hours, a krokodil high only lasts between ninety minutes to two hours. But what makes it more popular than heroin? Well, it is cheaper than heroin, has more addictive properties, is widely available and easy to make.


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The drug is now not only confined to Russia but has made its way to the United States and the United Kingdom. In September 2013, six cases of suspected krokodil abuse had been reported to the U.S. poison control centres. A 17-year-old girl from Houston, Texas was found to be suffering from terrible skin lesions which she got after injecting krokodil, as stated by the health authorities in Mexico in 2014. But there’s still not much evidence to prove that the US is about to sink into krokodil addiction. While in the UK, Emma Davies, 41, was the first person to fall ill from taking krokodil (2019). She suffered gruesome open sores by injecting this drug, which is 10 times stronger than heroin.

With the increase in the reach of krokodil across the globe, new cases of suspected Krokodil use are likely to emerge in the coming years.

(For more information, you can check out the Time video made by an Italian photographer Emanuele Satolli, who documented a group of krokodil addicts in Yekaterinburg)