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November 21, 2013

DEA: not krokodil, heroin the problem in US

By Travis Raymond

The reported appearance of krokodil, allegedly a flesh-eating substitute for heroin in Russia, within the United States was revealed to be another health scare.

Numerous media outlets reported krokodil usage in Columbus this month, including the Huffington Post and Time’s online edition.  Although news stories and social media buzz emerged in multiple states this fall, the DEA has identified them as false alarms. 

“Krokodil doesn’t really exist in the United States,” said DEA spokesman Rusty Payne.

While officials are well aware of the potential hazard of krokodil, they warn of the real dangers of domestic drug problems that are not urban legends.  Opiate abuse is already an issue of major concern in the US and in Northeast Ohio.

A rash of overdoses last week in Lorain County was attributed to the use of fentanyl, a widely used painkiller.

Captain Chris Costantino is the head of Elyria’s Narcotics Unit.  According to Costantino, dealers sometimes cut heroin with fentanyl.  Lab tests identified evidence samples seized last week as pure fentanyl.  Fentanyl is at least four times more potent than heroin.  Two people died and more than 20 overdosed within days of the deadly opioid hitting the streets.  Two street level dealers have been arrested so far.

Heroin use is increasing in America, while krokodil would be more costly and difficult to produce here than heroin because of its ingredients.

“The ingredients you need to make krokodil are harder to get in the US,” Payne said.  “Heroin is readily available, cheap, and on the rise in this country.”

Krokodil’s main ingredient, codeine, was for many years available over-the-counter in Russia.  When the government cracked down on heroin imports pouring into the country from Afghanistan in the early 2000s, addicts learned to cook codeine down with various chemicals to produce bootleg desomorphine, krokodil.  Authorities in Russia are trying to combat the problem, which is widespread among impoverished youth, by tightening control of codeine.

Krokodil (Russian for crocodile) is the street name for the illicitly-produced opioid desomorphine.  It has been widely reported that this new heroin substitute is rampant in Russia and takes an immediate physical toll on the body because of its extremely high toxicity.  Users allegedly inject the drug along with its processing agents, things like gasoline and formic acid, which causes extensive infection and scarification.

Just by using intravenous drugs, heroin users in America expose themselves to blood and tissue infections very similar to the effects of krokodil.  With gruesome images depicting the effects of krokodil drawing attention on the internet now for years, users who develop infections fear they purchased and injected krokodil instead of heroin. 

This turned out to be the case in Columbus when a homeless man with a severe infection told medics that he had used krokodil.  The infection was actually caused by injecting heroin with a dirty needle.

Even without the presence of krokodil, opiate abuse is clearly a serious problem in the United States.