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HOT TOPICS: Drug and Alcohol Treatment  Heroin

DEA Downplays Krokodil Sightings

As media hysteria grows, the drug agency tries to tamp down reports of the infamous flesh-eating synthetic heroin infesting the U.S.

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Reports about the zombie apocalypse have been greatly exaggerated.
Photo via Shutterstock

By Shawn Dwyer

11/27/13

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Despite reports over the past few months of Krokodil sightings from Arizona to Ohio, the Drug Enforcement Agency has gone on record to debunk claims that addicts in the United States are using the notorious Russian drug. But that hasn’t stopped physicians and other law enforcement officers from making the claim that the so-called zombie drug has reached American shores. Just a couple of weeks ago, Brian Brady, an interim police chief in Dillon, CO, claimed to see an increase in drug-related arrests for LSD, heroin, and yes, Krokodil. “We’re seeing a trend big time and that’s what worries me about the marijuana thing,” Brady said. “I’m not necessarily opposed to [retail marijuana], but when people want a bigger high they tend to mix it with something,” Brady said. Meanwhile, two doctors in Missouri amplified the hysteria by claiming that they logged the first official Krokodil case in the U.S.

A synthetic heroin-like drug originating in Russia, Krokodil is the street name of desomorphine, a cheap homemade derivative of codeine mixed with a smorgasbord of chemicals like gasoline, lighter fluid, iodine, hydrochloric acid, and red phosphorous from matchbooks. When injected, the user feels a heroin-like high, but also experiences scaly green skin that resembles gangrene. Some users have had the gruesome misfortune of seeing their flesh rot to the bone. Because of the hysteria being generated by the reports, the DEA has moved in to squash the rumors that the lethal drug has arrived in the U.S. “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 analyzed an exhibit found to contain desomorphine,” said spokesman Rusty Payne.

So what has been rotting away the flesh of intravenous drug users? According to Dr. Andrew Kolodny, chief medical adviser at the non-profit drug and alcohol rehabilitation center Phoenix House, the cause is more common than people think. “This is not a new problem. Drug users are prone to skin infections and blood infections. There are serious medical infections that come from injecting drugs,” Kolodny said.

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