Drugs don’t get much scarier than Desomorphine, a.k.a. “Krokodil.”
The narcotic reportedly originated in Russia a few years ago and gets its nickname (“crocodile” in Russian) from the green, scaly skin often found at the site of injection. Gangrene and amputations are scarily common, and most users die within a couple of years.
It’s been a fixture of Russian news for years, but now following reports of the drug in Arizona, Illinois, and even trendy Manhattan nightclubs Le Bain and Westway, Americans are starting to freak out about it.
While the idea of a Krokodil epidemic in the U.S. is horrifying, it is an unlikely scenario. Writing for Newsweek, Victoria Bekiempis decries a “maddening lack of hard facts” about the alleged U.S. cases, and explains that Krokodil is not likely to take over America anytime soon.
To understand why not, consider why Krokodil spread so quickly in Russia. The country has a lot of heroin addicts — the market is said to be worth $US6 billion last year — and there are strains on both the supply and the purchasing power of the consumer. Both buyers and sellers of the heroin turn to a cheaper alternative, one that can be made in a relatively simple manner with widely available codeine and gasoline, paint thinner, iodine, hydrochloric acid, and red phosphorous: Krokodil.
Of course, the U.S. does have a heroin problem too — in fact, the drug is in something of a comeback within the U.S., with the number of people admitting to using it within the last year jumping 53.5% from 2002’s numbers, to 620,000 in 2011 according to the Wall Street Journal. That number is less than half the reported number of addicts in Russia, however, which was recently estimated to be at least 1.5 million.
But the key difference is that codeine is easy to obtain in Russia, where it could be bought over the counter without a prescription. In America, it isn’t — it’s usually listed as a Schedule III or IV substance by the Controlled Substances Act depending on its formulation, and almost always a prescription. Because of this, Bekiempis writes, “there’s no easy krokodil-cooking startup culture that would kick-start its spread across North America.” It’s notable that one of the major steps Russia has taken to battle krokodil is banning over-the-counter sales of drugs containing codeine.
Drug users aren’t completely irrational and are thus unlikely to decide to use a drug as terrifyingly gruesome and death-inducing as krokodil unless it were readily available or incredibly cheap. Likewise, drug dealers are unlikely to make many new customers if they are selling a relatively expensive drug that causes its users limbs to fall off.
In fact, as Bekiempis points out, the reported cases of krokodil in the U.S. remain unconfirmed by the D.E.A., and officials in Oklahoma are quite clearly saying that reports of krokodil-related deaths in that state are not supported by any evidence. Stories of its appearance in a Le Bain bathroom appear about as credible as all late night tales from Le Bain bathrooms (i.e. not very).
Of course, this doesn’t mean that Krokodil hasn’t made its way to the U.S., but it does seem likely that any cases of it are isolated and d.i.y. in nature. Let’s remember, Krokodil was first reported in Europe a few years ago, but after a few headlines, an epidemic failed to appear. Hopefully it’ll be the same here.