Krokodil, a “Flesh-Eating” Heroin Substitute Popular in Russia, Just Showed Up in the U.S.

Desomorphine, a cleaner form of the drug, was first concocted by the U.S. in the 1930s as a potential morphine substitute


Several days ago, Krokodil, a cheap heroine substitute popular in Russia, reportedly made landfall in Arizona. The drug’s name means “crocodile” in Russian and is known for its flesh-eating tendencies. The impure street drug is often cut with household chemicals such as paint thinner, gasoline and lighter fluid, i09 explains, which sometimes cause a gangrenous infection and produce the the drug’s infamous dissolving effects. If the drugs is acidic enough, it just eats away at the skin, directly. In some cases, hydrochloric acid even finds its way into the concoction.

Until now, Krokodil was largely a Russian problem. But two patients in Phoenix turned up with Krokodil-like symptoms, setting off alarms among medical professionals. ABC 10 News reports:

When the facility warned other poison centers around the country about krokodil, some revealed they also had patients suffering from its apparent use, according to Dr. Frank LoVecchio, co-medical director at Banner Poison, Drug and Information Center.

“This is up there as one of the craziest new trends I’ve seen,” he said. “We’ve known about it in Russia, and we’ve known what it has done there. It’s really decimated whole cities there.”

Shelly Mowrey, an Arizona substance abuse and prevention expert, told ABC 15, our Scripps station in Phoenix, that the drug started in Siberia in 2002 before spreading across Russia’s transient and prostitute populations.

As it turns out, however, Krokodil did not originate in Siberia. It was first concocted by the U.S. in the 1930s as a potential morphine substitute, io9 reports, when it went by the name Desomorphine. Contrary to its chemists hopes, however, the new drug proved to be highly addictive.

Shortly after its discovery, desomorphine came to be used in Switzerland under the name of Permonid, where its effects were soon found to have a faster onset and shorter duration than those of morphine, while being several times more potent. Ironically, this made desomorphine a perfectly awful substitute for morphine; extreme potency, after all, combined with a short acting time, is a perfect combination for addiction.

Krokodil has yet to make the DEA’s controlled substance list, though a DEA agent did tell Mother Jones that the potential new trend “concerns us very much.”

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