Krokodil, also known as desomorphine, has had a comeuppance in some of the strangest ways possible. Typically, most drugs that exist today were introduced to the public through various medical and alternate uses before they were recreationally abused, which led to them being outlawed. However, what makes krokodil so strange in this case, is how it was classified as a Schedule 1 drug before it was ever put to use medically.
This drug gained popularity from the start as being addictive and abused on the street before it ever even reached the proverbial medicine cabinet. This is one of the few drugs that since its creation, was immediately banned on the public stage.
Basically a cousin to morphine, it has the same molecular makeup but its creation is cheaper and side effects much more severe than that of morphine.
It gets its street name “krokodil” from the effects long-term users get. The effects are typically the hardening and then scaling of the skin until eventually deteriorating the very flesh off the bones of its users. It’s also why it has gained the now more popular name of “zombie” drug. This name is known more popularly in the Americas because of the recorded cases here, relating to its victims walking around with dripping flesh.
It seems that the drug’s rise to power came almost from nowhere and gained popularity in a matter of weeks.
Some believe the rise and sheer gained awareness of krokodil started in 2011, at a time when Russia was going through its biggest krokodil epidemic in its known history. The Russian government was trying to combat the growing Russian mafias who were gaining ultimate control of the drug at the time. The Russian scene eventually became known in several different media outlets as the “zombie” takeover.
Although rumors surfaced toward the end of 2011 that the Russian government was, in fact, helping the Russian mafia in the distribution of krokodil throughout the streets, it has largely been debunked. It turned out that the stories were largely manufactured by the Ukrainian people to tarnish the name and reputation of the Russian government.
So the question is: Where did it come from?
Where Did Krokodil Come From?
First synthesized in the United States in the early 1900s, its uses and discovery remained largely stagnate and hidden for years. Once a specific Russian chemist got his hands on the information of the main components of the drug, he brought it back to Russia. He also shared its information with a more well-known scientist from Switzerland.
In certain fronts of World War I, trench warfare was fast becoming a large blockade to the medical community. With the American civil war happening just a few years back, medicine had hardly advanced. Part of the issue, aside from the general infancy of the medicine that would grow to be what it’s today, there needed to be a stronger sedative for the barbaric medical procedures at the time. The most infamous of the procedures being amputations.
Imported and synthesized in Switzerland as another form of morphine, it was nearly eight to 10 times more powerful than the morphine at the time. It was at times preferred because of its relatively low reported cases of nausea and all together illness related to it. Morphine at the time was highly volatile and could cause serious side effects that oftentimes outweighed the good it did.
Although production started in Switzerland, it was soon exported to Russia as a large and main buyer of the drug due to the low price of its production relative to its heavy effects.
It was found in Switzerland afterward that its side effects were largely negative, offsetting the positive done by its main use so it was soon after banned.
Russia Cracks Down on Illegal Krokodil Production
However, because of its relatively simple production methods, it was found that around 2009 to 2011, there were large groups illegally producing the drug in larger and stronger quantities. Eventually, the Russian government began to more seriously crack down on the production of the drug around the country. Another rise of the use of the drug was quickly gaining notoriety also in the Ukraine.
Even with the possession, production, and distribution of the drug illegal in Russia, it hardly had an effect on its production on the world stage.
Although not as popular as more abundant and cheaper drugs on American streets today such as meth, it’s slowly gaining ground in many places around the country. The popularity of krokodil is right now gaining the biggest fan base starting off mainly on the East Coast of the United States. Because it is simple to make, it is slowly creating a following most popularly in Florida and Alabama, where the most recent stories have been coming out from.
What Are the Effects of Krokodil?
Krokodil’s main effects are largely similar to that of many opioid drugs but its chemical and molecular makeup is similar to that of morphine. It also is a pain-relieving agent that eats and tears apart through human skin as it works. It’s the reason many of its users suffer from what looks like a flesh eating disorder. The drug is not, in fact, eating through flesh but it is ripping through the skin. Once the skin is shredded and torn apart, bacterial infections are what is left and they leave the very grotesque remnants we tend to see in the photos and the media.
Effects of Krokodil Use
- Blood vessel damage
- Open ulcers, gangrene, phlebitis
- Skin and soft tissue infections
- Skin grafts/surgery
- Limb amputations
- Blood poisoning
- Rotting gums/tooth loss
- Blood-borne virus transmission (HIV/HCV due to needle sharing)
- Bone infections (osteomyelitis)
- Speech and motor skills impairment
- Memory loss and impaired concentration
- Liver and kidney damage
In addition to the detrimental physical effects it leaves on the body, the lesser-known effects are what it leaves behind in a mental aspect. Long-term effects of krokodil include high blood pressure. If treated early enough, survivors are known to live with a vacuum pump to adjust fluctuating blood pressure levels for the rest of their lives.
This is why the vast majority of its users, if left untreated but sometimes even so, die within weeks of quitting the drug. While the physical withdrawal process might not be as serious relative to other more commonly abused drugs, the long-term damages are almost infinitely worse.
Where Are We Now?
Ever since its inception, it has remained a Schedule 1 substance. Around much of the rest of the world, it currently is still illegal. Russia was the last known place that the drug lasted for so long as an active and legal drug. In many different nations in Africa, it’s known as the “leather man” drug because of its effects it leaves on its users, and so it currently has a growing following.
Although krokodil cases have yet to have a full-blown effect here in the US, it’s the hope of the majority that the drug will lack the fire and hopefully not take off like so many others in our past. Yet we all need to tread carefully in the presence of this drug. Protection from a killer like this requires knowledge about it.
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