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Krokodil Seen in Arizona

Not the dangerous animal, the dangerous drug. Krokodil is the street name for a heroin substitute. The name is Russian for crocodile and comes from the green, scaly skin that can appear at injection sites. Users of the drug face an addiction just as strong as heroin, with the addition of the flesh damaging results from injecting a homemade product containing, among other things, gasoline residues.

Like methamphetamine, a version of the drug can be made at home using fairly simple methods. Also like meth, the process uses dangerous chemicals. The precursor is codeine, which is converted into an injectable opioid: desomorphine. As long as a “cook” can get codeine to convert, they can make krokodil by combining it with other common ingredients.

In Arizona, news reports say that patients with the signs of krokodil use have showed up for treatment. “In Phoenix, physicians told toxicologists at the Banner Good Samaritan Poison Control Center that they spotted symptoms consistent with krokodil, an intravenous drug that is prevalent in Russia and Eastern European countries, according to a statement released to the Los Angeles Times.”

The real fear is that home cooks will do for opioid injection what they did for methamphetamine. Anyone willing to follow an Internet recipe and take some risks can cook up a batch. Until now, accessing a heroin-like drug meant dealing with a supply chain. Heroin is produced from poppies that aren’t grown in the US, so it is all smuggled in. But with a conversion from codeine, krokodil puts a version right in users hands.

So far, krokodil is still a fringe drug. The serious downsides of infection and tissue destruction appear to be keeping it unpopular. But the low-cost and ease of access will surmount the obvious downside. It’s already happened in Russia, but there is a difference. Under US law, codeine containing products are more carefully controlled. Unlike pseudoephedrine (used to make meth), which doesn’t require a prescription in most states, codeine is harder to get. Hopefully, that will work against the drug emerging as a real threat in the US. For now, all that can be done is to wait and see.


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