By Frank Lewis
November 26, 2013
PDT Staff Writer
As though the horrors of drug addiction weren’t already a tremendous challenge, the latest trend in abuse is one that is literally flesh-eating.
“If it’s in Columbus, we’re going to have it here,” Portsmouth City Health Department nurse Bobbi Bratchett told the Daily Times, when asked about the newest destructive, flesh-eating drug Krokodil (Desomorphine). “I know there have been cases out in Phoenix already. There’s one or two cases in Columbus, and it is hideous. A picture is worth a thousand words.”
Photos of users are being seen online, and show people whose skin is being eaten away. The images are horribly graphic, so caution is encouraged if curiosity strikes. The drug reportedly got its start in rural Russia.
The closest cases have been reported in Athens, Ohio. In fact, according to an article in NewsMax, after the flesh-eating drug Krokodil made its first appearance in his county this week, an Ohio sheriff offered some shocking advice to junkies: “Get your heroin from a trusted source.”
A woman in Athens told deputies she thought she had purchased heroin from her dealer, but it was actually Krokodil.
“The deputy [who talked with the woman] said the injection point right in the vein, at that point, becomes pussed over, and then it starts to become scaly, and then from that point starts moving out,” Sheriff Patrick Kelly told 10TV.com. “From my understanding, in this situation, it was coming upward, and, we say scaly, because it looks like a crocodile.”
The drug has also been reported in Cincinnati.
“It’s kind of the new drug out there that’s being abused,” Scioto County Health Commissioner Dr. Aaron Adams said. “There’s not any local cases we know of, but apparently a student at Ohio University died from it recently - thought it was heroin. It causes a reaction once it’s injected under the skin and the skin forms scaly-like areas over it. We’re just kind of hearing the new things about it.”
Bratchett put the side effects in plain terms.
“It destroys from inside out, and ultimately it leads to death,” Bratchett said.
Bratchett said Krokodil is a cheap form of Heroin, but according to health officials, is 10 times more potent than Morphine. Bratchett deals with intravenous drug users on a regular basis through the city’s syringe exchange program.
“What we have been trying to tell our exchangers, the preventative measure is, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is,” Bratchett said. “It is probably much cheaper, but please don’t take it, because of the end result.”
Mary Kate Dilts-Skaggs, Administrative Ditrector of Nursing at Southern Ohio Medical center said the high associated with Krokodil is akin to that of heroin, but lasts a much shorter period. While the effects of heroin use can last four to eight hours, the effects of Krokodil do not usually extend past one and a half hours, with the symptoms of withdrawal setting in soon after. She said Krokodil takes roughly 30 minutes to an hour to prepare with over-the-counter ingredients in a kitchen. Since the homemade mix is routinely injected immediately with little or no further purification, Krokodil has become notorious for producing severe tissue damage, phlebitis and gangrene, sometimes requiring limb amputation in long-term users. Although there are not many addicts, their life expectancies are said to be as low as two years due to injecting drug users’ high susceptibility to infections and gangrene.
“Krokodil is a potent, highly addictive drug that is extremely toxic to tissues and leads to severe wound infections and gangrene,” said Dr. Thomas Carter, Director of Emergency Medicine Residency at SOMC. “It has flesh-eating properties. The best advice I can give in regards to Krokodil is just don’t do it.”
Carter also added the SOMC Emergency Department has not seen any confirmed cases of Krokodil use.
“It’s always spooky, and people are always wondering, is that going to be the new thing we have to deal with locally and regionally?” Adams said. “As you see the Heroin and the prescription drugs decreasing because of availability, because of law enforcement and the new laws and the guidelines that we have, people are looking for these alternative choices.”
One hole in the reported cases comes from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) which seems to debunk the appearance of the drug.
In Friday’s Forbes, a story says DEA is “investigating the matter by acquiring samples alleged to contain desomorphine, interviewing drug abusers, and monitoring intelligence reports. To date, none of our forensic laboratories has analysed an exhibit found to contain desomorphine. A sample sent to our Chicago forensic laboratory that was suspected to be Krokodil was actually heroin.”
As the International Business Times notes, “Experts have said it is unlikely the drug has even really left Russia, as it is only used by people in remote parts of the country where heroin has become too expensive or unavailable—it is turned to as a last resort among addicts.”
Russian junkies resorted to Krokodil because heroin was hard to come by and codeine, which can be converted into desomorphine using common chemicals, was available over the counter. Since neither of those things is true in the United States, it hardly seems plausible that Krokodil would appeal to American drug users.
However, reports out of Arizona, Illinois and now Ohio seem to indicate the risk has arrived for American users.
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. For breaking news, follow Frank on Twitter @FrankLewisPDT.