Known as krokodil, the potentially lethal opiate originated in Russia and has started to surface in other areas of the world — most recently in Phoenix, Arizona. The highly addictive active ingredient — desomorphine — creates a heroin-like high for a cheaper price. Unlike some heroin, however, krokodil is highly impure.
"I think what's especially bad about krokodil, or crocodile, is that it's a mixture of a number of things that might be cooked up in a kitchen, or might be cooked up in a bathroom by people who are really, sort of, amateur chemists," explains Dr. Aaron Skolnik, a medical toxicologist with The Banner Good Samaritan Poison and Drug Information Center in Phoenix. "[Desomorphine] is similar to heroin and morphine, but many times more potent, and then all the stuff that's left over are things that are probably better left on the shelf of a hardware store."
Krokodil typically consists of a mixture of codeine and hydrocarbons, such as paint thinner and gasoline, as well as iodine, red phosphorous and hydrochloric acid. Administered intravenously, krokodil gets its street name from the scaly texture and green hue of an addict's skin, as it becomes gangrenous and decomposes. In addition to tissue necrosis, krokodil can cause dangerous skin infections and abscesses that do not heal.
"This drug produces a rapid high," Dr. Skolnik adds. "The high appears to be more potent on a per-dose basis than heroin. It's probable that those kind of skin changes and those kind of horrible wounds that we see occur after some chronic use."
Statistics show that once someone starts injecting krokodil, they only have a one- to two-year life expectancy.