Desomorphine, more commonly known as krokodil, is making its way back into the streets. Krokodil is a cheaper alternative for heroin that has been widely referred to as the flesh-eating zombie drug. Also called the poor man’s heroin, krokodil is a highly addictive and powerful drug and was named as such because of the effect it has on the skin of users. On the part of the body where the drug is injected, the skin peels and turns scaly, very similar to crocodile’s skin.

Krokodil is often manufactured with paint thinner and petrol, ingredients which are largely responsible for corrosive effects it has on a person’s body. The user develops gangrene, with the drug rotting the flesh to the bone, making users appear zombie-like.

Chemical Composition of Krokodil

This drug was first synthesized in 1932 and was a semi-synthetic opiate that was used in Switzerland as a pain reliever. It is also a relative of morphine, a natural painkiller that was derived from opium poppies. However, desomorphine has one less double bond and one fewer -OH group. This is crucial because the more -OH group that a molecule has, the easier it will be to dissolve in water. On the other hand, the fewer -OH groups there are, the more fat-soluble the molecule is and the easier it will be for it to cross the blood-brain barrier.

Because of its chemical composition, desomorphine or krokodil is approximately ten times more effective as a painkiller compared to morphine. It is also eliminated from the body more quickly than the latter, which means that while a heroin user’s high may last for four hours, a krokodil user’s will only last two. As a result, users will have to take krokodil more frequently in order to keep feeling its effect on them. Addiction can happen within just a few days of regular use.

The Return of Krokodil

Krokodil is considered as one of the deadliest drugs to have ever hit the streets. It appeared in the black market in 2003 and wound up getting hundreds of thousands of users addicted to the drug. Its spread was particularly felt in the poor, industrial areas of Russia. It is very appealing for drug users because it is simple to create in their own kitchens. They can purchase the ingredients in at local pharmacies and hardware stores such as hydrochloric acid, paint thinner and red phosphorous, which can be scraped from the sides of match boxes.

Medical authorities assert that the average life span of a person is 1-2 years after he or she starts using. The damage it does to a person’s body is gruesome and often, irreversible. The flesh at the injection site will rot away. At the same time, brain tissue and other vital organs become severely eroded. While krokodil first became prevalent in Russia, causing a lethal epidemic there, it has eventually spread to other parts of the world including the U.S. and Europe. Most recently, UK authorities have discovered patients who have been using the drug.