Could the Krokodil Drug Epidemic Poison America?

Chances are you haven’t heard of krokodil.

Could the Krokodil Drug Epidemic Poison America?

If you do a quick Google search you’ll learn it means crocodile in Russian, it used to be the name of a 20th century Soviet magazine, and you might come across one TIME magazine article and a disturbing video of how it’s also a very dangerous drug growing into an epidemic in Russia.

The name krokodil comes from its trademark side effect: scaly green skin like a crocodile around the injection site. TIME calls it “the dirty cousin of morphine,” because it’s three times cheaper than heroin and very easy to make, being that its main ingredient is codeine, a behind-the-counter drug that has sent many of America’s famous rap community to prison.

The medical name of krokodil is desomorphine. A quick search for that will bring up graphic images of people with swollen faces, exposed bones and muscles and skin rotting off on any given body part.

The reason the drug is so anatomically destructive is due to its mix-ins. Users stir in ingredients “including gasoline, paint thiner, hydrochloric acid, iodine and red phosphorus which they scrape from the striking pads on matchboxes,” reports TIME.

The drug isn’t filtered before consumption, meaning the high amounts of industrial chemicals enter the body, each chemical destroying a different area: the endocrine system, bone tissue, the nervous system and the liver and kidneys. Circulation is disrupted so severely it often leads to the death of a person’s limbs which inevitably have to be amputated. “Non-healing ulcers appear on the body and a person literally rots alive,” notes one blog site, Shroomery.

While you most likely haven’t heard of it and it doesn’t seem to be spreading around the States yet, krokodil is not new. It was originally concocted in America in the 1930s, but didn’t seem to really find its way into Siberia and Russia until 2002, where, by 2009, it has spread substantially.

It seems to have caught on in particular regions in Russia that are remote, regions where winter lasts eight months out of the year and where “the young people are in a constant state of boredom,” says TIME. The youth drinks a lot and barely works—this sounding reminiscent of the conditions and high amount of alcoholism among Alaska’s population, a place Sarah Palin calls Russia’s next-door neighbor. Could it also be the bridge that brings krokodil over?

What would happen if krokodil use grew in our society like it has in Russia, a country whose government plays almost no part in the rehabilitation system? It would enter our debate at a turbulent time for drug policy. States from Connecticut to California are considering sanctioning marijuana, and the Global Commission on Drug Policy advocated that all drugs be decriminalized worldwide, asserting the global war on drugs has failed.

Meanwhile the Federal Government isn’t budging, insisting they’ll go over states’ heads to continue criminally prosecuting drug use.

But would legalizing drugs really be enough?

Depending on the price and potency, it seems inevitable that the youth in Russia who are already addicted to krokodil’s 30-minute high wouldn’t likely turn to drugs sold in stores in favor of their cheap, home-grown mixture, and likely neither would Americans.

According to Reuters there are over 250 million illegal drug users, less than 10% of whom are addicted. For 90% of users legalizing would be a boon. But even though the Global Drug Policy’s recommendation to decriminalize includes replacing prison with rehabilitation for addicts, it seems inevitable that a certain number, like those mixing their own krokodil, would get marginalized out of the care system.

If a seedy drug like krokodil does enter our society, it could be assumed that this level of addiction—whereby a person willfully injects paint thiner and iodine into their body—would go under the radar of the Global Commission on Drugs despite their attention to addicts.

Addiction will never be addressed legislatively until governments can address the root of what causes it, in a medical—rather than criminal—capacity. Given that we’re nowhere close to even providing basic universal healthcare in this country, say nothing of rehab, we can only hope that the Russians addicted to krokodil can help themselves before hurting us.