It might sound like a William Gibson invention, but the street drug “Krokodil” just a toxic substance made from existing drugs…one that appears to cause ghoulish effects that make the most hopped-up anti-drug urban legends in the States sound like cakewalks. Worldcrunch.com calls the Russian substance a “designer drug,” but it’s technically something entirely different. A “designer drug” is a drug specifically invented to bypass drug laws that haven’t caught up with it yet. Designer drugs usually mimic similar substances that are already illegal.
Krokodil, on the other hand, does not sound like it’s a a designer drug — it’s described by Wikipedia as desomorphine, made from codeine and…STUFF. Weird stuff. Awful stuff. Dangerous stuff. It’s sold as a heroin substitute — which seems bizarre to me, since in California not long ago, heroin could sometimes be cheaper than weed. Europe, however, has often seen heroin prices climb much, much higher than the United States.
Krokodil has now been reported in Germany, and as Worldcrunch puts it — re-reporting an article in German — it’s a serious menace:
Codeine, benzine, paint thinner, hydrochloric acid and red phosphorus – that’s what goes into “Krokodil,” a drug that originated in Russia and is believed to have now hit Western Europe. In Germany, workers in drug cafés have reported seeing “disastrous skin conditions and damage to soft tissue” among Krokodil users.
Police in Frankfurt and Bochum have so far been unable to confirm the presence of the drug, but experts say that the physical reactions observed in certain addicts indicate that they are caused by the drug.
…In Russia, cough medicine and headache medication containing codeine can be bought without a prescription, allowing addicts to mix the drug cocktail themselves.
The name crocodile is believed to be derived from the infections around the injection areas where the skin turns green and dies. The scaly green condition spreads to the rest of the body and the toxic drug also [affects] bone tissue, eating away at users from the inside. Amputations are sometimes necessary, but users usually don’t live for more than two to three years after starting to use this highly addictive drug.
Use of the drug is growing in Russia because it is cheap: one dose costs about 5 euros (as opposed to 50 euros for heroin), but the resulting euphoria is similar to that experienced by heroin users. Many heroin addicts who can no longer afford that drug switch over to “Krokodil,” even though the effects last for less than two hours.
You can read a Google Translation of the original German-language article here, and Time had a piece on it back in June. Time also uses the term designer drug to describe Krokodil. Regardless of whether you read either article, I strongly caution you not to do an image search for Krokodil — what you get is an avalanche of rotted-away limbs on people who can’t be much older than twenty-five…with bones exposed. Whether there are photo hoaxes involved I don’t know — but it’s not one source; its many. Many, many. At first glance it appears real, and what gets seen with image searches like this can’t be unseen. The drug appears to produce what looks like a one-stop dermatological pathology textbook and even strong stomachs are advised to stay away. It makes bath salts look like…bath salts.
The misuse of the term “designer drug,” incidentally, is potentially dangerous. Krokodil is poison, pure and simple — a drug cut with chemicals that fuck you up. There’s nothing “designer” about it. That term “designer drug” has a certain cache, and a sense of romance that’s scary enough when you use it for drugs it applies to. I don’t particularly like the term because it sounds like an ’80s fantasy…not the procedure of putting weird, untested chemicals in your body in the hopes of getting high.
The currently most common example of a “real” designer drug — one designed specifically to circumvent drug laws — is the exceedingly dangerous drug known as bath salts, which exploded in the southern Midwest earlier this year — while the local press in those regions went nuts, spreading fear and unsubstantiated horror stories without ever seeming to know much about street drugs, how they’re proliferated, what the effects are or how drug laws are (or should be) enforced.
Bath Salts has therefore been the source of much hysteria in the media without many critical questions being asked — and plenty of law enforcement interest, but little effective legislative or regulatory action that means anything. Bath salts mimics the action of methamphetamine, but it is still sold over the counter in some states, as well as over the internet. Unfortunately, it appears to be far more unpredictable and impure even than street-level meth.
I first reported on bath salts in February, and it’s has continued to sweep the nation without any significant Federal action — despite the fact that the DEA announced an “emergency ban” on bath salts that was supposed to take effect this month. Ohio just instituted a bath salts ban, and other states are in the queue, but the DEA has continued to be somewhat opaque about its real intentions regarding bath salts.
Regardless of what the DEA does with bath salts, I sure as hell hope Krokodil doesn’t cross the pond.