Monday, October 21, 2013

Could Flesh-Eating Drug 'Krokodil' Become Popular in US?

Image credit: fritscdejong on Flickr, via
October 21, 2013 - Krokodil is a deadly, nightmarish synthetic heroine. It may be just hitting the United States after becoming popular in Russia about three years ago. The effects of Krokodil are hellish: Gangrene, rotting flesh, green scaly skin, and death are just some symptoms of use.

"While methamphetamine and heroin are guaranteed to give you a slow, painful death, if you want to speed up the process, take this drug," said DEA supervisory agent Sue Thomas, as quoted by Deseret News on October 6. "If you just want to speed up and horrify the death process a little more, take this drug. It will rot you from the inside out, leaving you with gaping wounds that will leave bones exposed, horrible abscesses and it's a horrific death," she said. The same Deseret News article noted that "Recently, two cases of people using Krokodil were confirmed in Arizona. Thomas said that's concerning to Utah DEA agents." (My emphasis added.)

Even so, writer Adam Taylor says that Krokodil will not sweep America. He said so in an October 21 article in Business Insider, titled "Why Russia's Flesh-Eating Drug 'Krokodil' Won't Sweep Through America." Taylor even seems to doubt that Krokodil is in the U.S., referring to "alleged U.S. cases." Note, however, that DEA's agent Thomas acknowledged the presence of Krokodil in two confirmed cases in Arizona. Note also that on October 9 Business Insider ran an article by Michael Kelley titled "Russia's Terrifying Form Of 'Homemade Heroin' Seems To Be Spreading Across The US."

"The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has released a statement for the public to be aware of Krokodil, a drug allegedly from Russia," reported International Business Times on October 14. "Jack Riley, special agent-in-charge of DEA Chicago Field Division, said the agency was 'very concerned' about the news of patients being treated at Presence St Joseph Medical Center."

Adam Taylor
Adam Taylor seems to be at odds with reality, the media and the DEA in saying that Krokodil cannot become popular ("sweep") in America. In fact, he's at odds with himself. Taylor based his October 21 argument largely on the fact that codeine, a key ingredient of Krokodil "is easy to obtain in Russia" but "In America, it isn't."

Taylor contradicts himself: On September 26, Business Insider published his article titled "Russia's Horrifying Flesh-Eating Drug 'Krokodil' Reportedly Spreads Into The United States." In that piece, Taylor wrote that "the U.S. now had its first two recorded cases of the use of Desomorphine, also known as 'krokodil.' The drug is made using readily available codeine...." (Emphasis added.)

To be fair, the DEA seems confused too. The agency has been monitoring Krokodil since at least 2011, and different agents have made conflicting statements recently. Agent Thomas is not the only one at DEA, however, to publicly indicate that Krokodil is actually in the U.S. The Daily Mail reported on October 15 that Jack Riley, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration's Chicago Field Division admitted the DEA "was,'very concerned' and was trying to track down the source of the drug" that two sisters in nearby Joliet seem to have taken, thinking they were getting heroin. Special Agent Riley's statement can be taken as a soft admission that Krokodil is, in fact, in the U.S. The DEA said in a recent statement that it is "very concerned" over patients in Chicago who displayed "symptoms consistent with the use of the drug Krokodil." However, reported RealTimesMedia on October 14, "the DEA stopped short of confirming the presence of the drug."

Taylor also thinks Krokodil will not become popular in the U.S. because -- get this --"Drug users aren't completely irrational." Perhaps not completely, but they were irrational enough to try their illegal drug/s of choice in the first place. They are irrational enough to extend the same trust to a thug in an alley that they would give to a pharmacist. Given that Krokodil is easy to make at home, even though codeine is by prescription only in the U.S., it doesn't even have to be smuggled in.

One problem that Taylor ignores is the fact that Krokodil is cheap to make, and that at least a few users in the U.S. thought they were taking real heroin. Krokodil (Desomorphine) "is an opiate-derivative of the drug morphine," says "Producers simply synthesize the drug from codeine. The process .... is analogous to the production of pseudoephedrine and methamphetamine. This drug has ultimately become impure and mixed with different toxins and corrosive derivatives. Most of the ingredients of krokodil are found at home, like red phosphorus, iodine; paint thinner, gasoline, and hydrochloric acid." Any geek could brew up a batch of Krokodil in his kitchen more easily than setting up a meth lab, and then pass the drug off as heroine to unsuspecting customers. Codeine is only by prescription, but millions of fake or fraudulent prescriptions are written and filled every year in the U.S. Codeine is easy to obtain, legally or through a straw man purchase.

The piece by Taylor is essentially a shorthand parroting of a Newsweek article by Victoria Bekiempis today, with the title "Why You Don't Need to Worry About 'Flesh-Eating' Drug Krokodil." Bekiempis talks about

I am not saying that Krokodil will become a big hit in America. But I would never say that it could not, especially not using the poorly considered reasons put forth by Mr. Taylor and Ms. Bekiempis.

Taylor notes that Krokodil could be in the U.S., despite some official doubt by federal law enforcement agencies; the DEA has not confirmed any cases. "But it does seem likely," he writes, "that any cases of it are isolated and d.i.y. in nature." Taylor also notes that "Krokodil was first reported in Europe a few years ago, but after a few headlines, an epidemic failed to appear. Hopefully it'll be the same here." Sure, hopefully. 

Neither Taylor nor Bekiempis tell us that Krokodil has been around much longer than "a few years." According to, Krokodil "was invented in the US in 1932 but became very popular only in 2010 when Russia has noticed the rise in the illegal production of the drug in the country. In Switzerland, it is popularly called by its brand name, Permonid." Taylor, in his Sept. 26 Business Insider article, erroneously tells us that Krokodil "originated in Russia."

It will be interesting to see whether states or local governments will ban or restrict the sale of these common items in a misdirected effort to halt domestic production of Krokodil.

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