Krokodil is one of the world’s most infamous drugs. Famous for its deteriorating effects on the skin, krokodil is the street name for desomorphine. Here’s everything you need to know about it.
What is Krokodil?
Krokodil is the street name for a drug called desomorphine. That drug was once used as a sedative and analgesic for legitimate medical purposes. It once went by the brand name Permonid and was used by doctors in Switzerland.
Today, however, krokodil is more likely to be abused than used for legitimate medical purposes.
It’s particularly a problem in Russia, which experienced a surge in the illegal production of krokodil starting in the early 2000s.
The drug itself is relatively easy to make: it’s a mixture of codeine, iodine, and a mix of over the counter medications. Mix in a little bit of the red phosphorous – like the stuff found on a match head – and you’ve got krokodil.
In the United States, krokodil has no legitimate medical uses in the eyes of the FDA. It’s a schedule 1 controlled substance. The United States has actually never allowed the use of krokodil, as that restriction goes back all the way to 1936.
Krokodil, as you may have guessed from the name, is just the Russian word for “crocodile” (крокодил in Cyrllic). The exact origin of the name is unknown, but it’s likely related to the fact that it’s made from chlorocodide, which kinda sounds like crocodile if you say it really fast.
Another reason behind the name “crocodile” is that the drug eats your flesh like a “krokodil”.
Chemical Makeup of Krokodil
Krokodil was first synthesized in 1932 and was patented in 1934. Soon after being patented, it began being used in Switzerland, where it was sold under the brand name Permonid.
The drug is described as having a fast onset and a short duration of action. Like morphine, it has strong painkilling effects. Unlike morphine, however, it is not associated with nausea or respiratory depression.
Krokodil is similar to morphine because it’s a derivative of morphine. Desomorphine is just a version of morphine where the 6-hydroxyl group and the 7,8 double bond have been reduced.
Typically, the version of krokodil sold illegally on the streets is made through a basic chemical process involving reacting thionyl chloride with codeine. This gives you alpha-chlorocodide. Once you have alpha-chlorocodide, you can begin to synthesize desomorphine by using catalytic reduction to turn it into dihydrodesoxycodeine.
Uses for Krokodil
Starting in the 1930s, krokodil was used for legitimate medical purposes in Switzerland and Russia. It was traditionally used by doctors to treat severe pain.
Desomorphine was initially a very popular way to treat pain – it’s reportedly faster acting than morphine and is also 8 to 10 times more powerful.
However, after an initial surge of attention in the 1930s and 1940s, krokodil fell out of fashion in Switzerland. Throughout most of the latter half of the 20th century, krokodil was being used to treat a single patient in Switzerland who had a rare illness.
Krokodil would later make a sudden resurgence in Russia – particularly in poorer parts of Siberia. Starting in 2003, Russia started reporting a widespread abuse of homemade desomorphine.
The drug exploded in popularity for a few reasons. The first and most important reason was that krokodil could be synthesized very easily from codeine, which is available as an OTC medication.
Basically, krokodil was like the Russian version of meth: it was cheap, easy to make, and could really mess you up.
The popularity of the drug would eventually spread throughout Russia and other neighboring former Soviet republics.
Use of krokodil exploded throughout the early 2000s in Russia. Starting in 2012, the Russian government realized it had a serious problem on its hands. It decided to restrict the sales of some of the over-the-counter medications used to make krokodil – like codeine.
After this policy change, the use of krokodil across Russia and Ukraine likely decreased. However, it’s estimated that there are still enormous problems across the region, with as many as 100,000 krokodil users in Russia and 20,000 in Ukraine.
Other reports – like this one from the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services – suggest that as many as 1 million people in Russia use krokodil.
Side Effects of Krokodil
Krokodil, like morphine and similar drugs (like other analgesics of the morphine type), is highly addictive. Making matters worse is that users quickly develop a tolerance.
Worse still is that the tolerance is primarily related to the desired effects of the drug. For example, its pain killing and sedative benefits decrease over time. However, the unwanted side effects – like respiratory depression – do not appear to change with tolerance.
Other dangerous problems associated with krokodil include:
— Toxins and Impurities: Anytime you have backyard chemists illegally producing drugs, it’s bad for purity and your health. Many of krokodil’s worst effects are related to the toxins and poisons left over after the cooking process.
— Tissue Damage and Infection: Krokodil became infamous on the internet for its degenerative effects on the skin. Take a few seconds to Google Image Search “krokodil” to see what I mean (it’s not for the faint of heart). These tissue damaging effects are what gave krokodil its name in the first place. These flesh eating effects are from the high levels of iodine and phosphorous (among other toxic substances) that are found leftover in krokodil after it has been synthesized.
— Highly Addictive: Like many types of morphine and other analgesics, even small amounts of krokodil have been highly addictive.
— Severe Physical Problems: Krokodil can cause blood vessel damage, open ulcers, limb amputations, rotting gums, tooth loss, bone infections, liver and kidney damage, and many other physical problems.
— Overdose and Death: It doesn’t take much krokodil to put someone into a coma.
Is Krokodil Illegal?
Krokodil is mostly considered a problem in Russia and other nearby regions. However, there is some evidence of krokodil usage in North America. In 2014, National Geographic Channel’s Drugs, Inc.
The drug is illegal in the United States and has been a schedule I controlled substance since 1936. The FDA has declared that there are no known legal medicinal uses for desomorphine in the United States, and that isn’t likely going to change in the near future.
Be warned before going to an image source and searching for Krokadil. You will find some truly disturbing images. This is one homemade drug that you should stay far far away from.