Brain and Body

This Deadly Drug Could Turn Your Skin Into Rotting Crocodile-Like Scales

January 4, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

Closeup of a man peering at his arm, damaged by krokodil, a dangerous substitute for heroin
Photo credit: Screenshot from video by VICE

“Krokodil” is a relatively new drug that literally destroys the flesh of users, and it’s more lethal than heroin.

You’ve heard of morphine, but have you ever heard of desomorphine? Perhaps you might’ve heard it called by its street name, “krokodil,” which is notorious for being the world’s deadliest drug.

According to Narconon, the drug first appeared in Russia in 2002. Since then, it’s spread to Siberia and other parts of Eastern Europe, and in 2013, krokodil reportedly showed up in the United States.

Krokodil is brewed at home with a laundry list of toxic ingredients. First, the drug user must buy codeine and then cook it with a mix of paint thinner, gasoline, hydrochloric acid, iodine, and red phosphorous from the striking surface of a matchbox. This questionable cocktail of chemicals produces a murky yellow liquid with a pungent smell.

SEE ALSO: Scopolamine: Is This Mind-Control Drug the “Most Dangerous” in the World?

The entire cooking process takes about a half-hour, and the high lasts anywhere from 90 minutes to two hours. Krokodil is injected, and it mimics the sensations of heroin for a fraction of the cost. TIME reports that, in Europe, a dose of krokodil costs just a few dollars while a hit of heroin costs about $20.

The drug is so deadly that the typical lifespan of a krokodil addict is only two or three years. “Wherever on the body a user injects the drug, blood vessels burst and surrounding tissue dies, sometimes falling off the bone in chunks,” according to TIME’s Simon Shuster.

Although people tend to switch to krokodil in place of heroin, the withdrawals from the two drugs are nothing alike. In an interview with The Independent, a young Russian doctor, Artyom Yegorov, says desomorphine causes the strongest levels of addiction and is the hardest to cure.

"With heroin withdrawal, the main symptoms last for five to 10 days. After that there is still a big danger of relapse but the physical pain will be gone. With krokodil, the pain can last up to a month, and it's unbearable. They have to be injected with extremely strong tranquilisers just to keep them from passing out from the pain," he says.

In addition to the crocodile-like skin, the drug also leaves users smelling strongly of iodine. It infuses into their clothes, and apparently the strong smell will never leave a house in which krokodil was cooked.

The Independent interviewed a former heroin addict and current krokodil user, Zhenya, who says every single heroin addict he’s known has moved onto krokodil since it’s cheaper.

"You can feel how disgusting it is when you're doing it," he recalls. "You're dreaming of heroin, of something that feels clean and not like poison. But you can't afford it, so you keep doing the krokodil. Until you die."

It sounds like choosing to use krokodil is like signing a death wish, but there are some people who recover from desomorphine addiction. Narconon reports that if a user does manage to get clean from krokodil, he or she will likely be left with permanent damage like erratic movements, a speech impediment, and a vacant gaze.

Below is VICE’s documentary Krokodil: Russia's Deadliest Drug, but be warned: some of the content is graphic.

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