Tox Tuesday: Krokodil

dreamstime_xs_19621261A cheap heroin substitute from Russia that destroys flesh, turning it green and scaly, has been reported in the U.S.

The drug – called krokodil, which is Russian for crocodile –is well known in Russia and other former Soviet republics but hadn’t been known in the U.S. until recently. In September, doctors in Arizona treated two patients that had symptoms similar to those caused by the drug. Earlier this year, a suspected case also cropped up in Massachusetts, The Washington Post reports. Reports also have cropped up in Illinois, although the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has not confirmed any cases so far.In Eastern Europe, the United Nations reports that krokodil is being used in areas where heroin is in tight supply.

Krokodil is used intravenously and can cause horrific side-effects such as rotting flesh, gangrene and abscesses, which can also lead to blood poisoning and amputations. Like methamphetamine, krokodil also has been known to seriously affect teeth and jaw bones. The drug is a homemade mash-up of dangerous ingredients, including codeine-based painkillers, paint thinner, gasoline, iodine or alcohol, according to USA Today.

Also known as desomorphine, the drug is eight to 10 times stronger than morphine. It was first synthesized in Russia about a decade ago using over-the-counter codeine and red phosphorus, which can be scraped off the sides of match boxes, The Washington Post notes. However, the use of krokodil didn’t become widespread in Russia until about three years ago. Since 2009, Russian officials have seized 23 times the amount of krokodil than in previous years – in the first three months of 2011, officials seized 65 million doses, according to Time.

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