Whoever thought a person would say: "Smoke a joint, sniff some glue, huff some paint, hit some blues...at least they're safe drugs?" Looking at Krokodil, you might find the comparison to be a justification for using "safer drugs" other than Krokodil; but don't fool yourself, because no drug is a safe drug. In fact, "safe drugs" are still damaging to the mind and body, it's just less visible. But what is this stuff called Krokodil anyway?
Here's some basic info on Krokodil: Imagine a futuristic drug that turns skin into a reptilian green color, and then, eats the flesh away, exposing the inner parts of the body in a gruesome manner.
Now of course, these physical effects sound great for a story-line in a James Bond film. Like a perfect weapon. But this isn't Bond, and it's very real. It's often referred to as "zombie apocalypse," because it turns people into those you see in "The Walking Dead." Officially, it's called Krokodil, and if we aren't careful, it could be coming to a town near you.
Krokodil is a drug that will, like many others, get you high. Like others, it's addictive and cheap. Unlike anything else we've seen, it steps up to a new level of destruction in ways we could only have nightmares about. Here's the deal: it begins by turning the skin near the injection site green, like that of a crocodile. The skin gets scaly, and soon it begins to rot, exposing bone and muscle to the elements. In short order, the choice is either amputation or death.
As of now, it seems that Krokodil is contained in Russia. It's a poor man's heroin. What's behind it? Primarily dependent on desomorphine, a synthetic opiate, it costs between $6 and $8 per use, compared to $150 per use for heroin. Desomorphine is 8 to10 times more powerful than morphine, and beginning in 1932, was often a medical substitute for morphine. Codeine, which is easily accessible to most drug addicts, is also relatively easy to convert to desomorphine. It sounds like the problem should be easily contained, but it isn't, because much of the product is manufactured in home kitchens, where pure, "safe" ingredients to "cook" it are available. As a result, the end product is deadly, impure, often orange-colored, and full of hydrochloric acid. And it reeks of iodine. Once the injection site is damaged, it becomes a focal point for the development of gangrene. What follows is deterioration of the skin, until it falls off and exposes the bone and muscle tissue. If immediate medical intervention is absent, death soon follows.
Since it can be prepared at home, and the life cycle of the high is relatively short, many addicts live a 24 hour a day schedule of cooking Krokodil and shooting up. The reason it's confined to Russia is that in Russia, codeine is available like aspirin is in the United States, which means it's an over-the-counter item. Unfortunately, Russia isn't alone. Canada, Israel, Japan, France, and Australia also allow codeine to be purchased over-the-counter, which means the expansion of the problem could happen faster than it can be stopped. Since Canada is a bordering country, the US is only a day away from being impacted in a huge way. Despite the limitation on the amount of codeine a person can buy in Russia, the truth is that within a day, a single individual can buy as much codeine as they want, and can cook up a batch of Krokodil within an hour or less.
Once an apartment or home is used as a "kitchen" to cook the
Krokodil, an odor from the iodine fills every porous surface, and it's
impossible to remove. The same goes for the clothes a person wears when
they "cook" the drug; once they finish, they either have to
burn the clothes, or be clearly identified as a Krokodil user.
Despite the plans to limit the sale of codeine in Russia to "prescription-only," in a year nothing has come to fruition. The government has called for the shutdown of websites showing how to manufacture the drug, but the codeine pills are still available. Behind the difficulty getting things shut down, are lobbyists working for the pharmaceutical companies: over 25% of the profits of the pharmacies come from codeine-based pills. And that's a profit-base the companies don't want to lose.
The life of an addict isn't enviable. The high becomes their life, and too often, especially in the case of Krokodil, the high becomes their death. Addicts who can't afford heroin use Krokodil as a means to an end, and if given the chance, they will eventually die from it. And yet they don't stop. In the words of one addict, "I am still recovering from my last binge; I almost lost all my fingers accept one, thinking that $20 can make a profit of $10,000." With that kind of motivation, common sense steps out the door. The high, the money, the ease of acquisition, and the ability to "fly under the radar of the government" makes the drug attractive. But one thing won't change: Krokodil is deadly, it is frightening, and it maims.