Headlines have appeared recently about “Krokodil”, an intravenous drug common in Russia, that has made its way to the United States. It is reported to be “more perilous than heroin“, a “flesh-eating zombie drug“, and even a “zombie apocalypse drug“.
While Krokodil is an incredibly dangerous way to get high, it’s also unlikely to bring on the zombie apocalypse. Let’s talk about Krokodil, what it is and what it isn’t, and how to best warn your teen away from it.
Krokodil is the street name for desomorphine, which is an opiate drug like morphine or heroin. It provides an intense, short rush when injected. Desomorphine is relatively easy to make at home using household chemicals. It’s called “Krokodil” because of the appearance skin can take on after injection*, and also because the chemical chlorocodide is an intermediate in its production. We don’t have any evidence that it is more addictive than heroin, as some have claimed, or that desomorphine addiction is untreatable.
Desomorphine itself doesn’t necessarily rot off anyone’s flesh. However, the production of desomorphine involves a number of caustic chemicals that can severely damage tissue. Most people who make Krokodil are not brilliant chemists trying to provide for their families. It’s very difficult to produce a drug using an array of toxic chemicals, and not have some of the chemicals remain in the solution. Not all batches of Krokodil will kill flesh (although, obviously, there’s no way to tell which ones do.) Some will do so in a minor capacity, and some will literally burn the flesh off your bones. Krokodil can destroy veins and surrounding tissues, leading to gangrene in injection sites. Injecting toxic chemicals into the bloodstream can also damage organs such as the liver, brain, heart, and kidneys (and, of course, kill you.)
So why do people use it? It’s cheap. You can make it in your basement. And because it’s cheap and easily made, we are starting to see people who thought they were injecting heroin, unknowingly inject Krokodil instead. This makes the situation even more dangerous, since we have a heroin use problem in Washington State, particularly among young people.
We’ve discussed before how to talk to your teen about drugs. This isn’t a one-time conversation! It should be talked about on a regular basis, and the news stories (and gross pictures) regarding Krokodil are a perfect opportunity to discuss it again. I can’t think of a drug that so easily encapsulates everything awful about substance abuse.
Talking about Krokodil can open up to a bigger discussion about how you never really know what’s in an illegal drug, and how intravenous substance abuse can have catastrophic consequences. Whenever anyone takes an illegal drug, and especially if one is injected directly into the bloodstream, contamination can be devastating. If someone is used to a certain level of purity in their drug, and the batch they get is too pure, they can easily overdose. And of course, any IV drug use carries risk of addiction, bloodborne infections, abscesses/ gangrene, and other horrible outcomes.
(While you’re having this conversation, make sure you address the dangers in abusing prescription drugs as well.)
It’s been difficult to come to conclusions about what works when trying to convince teens to stay away from drug use. We have some idea of what doesn’t work. Here are some recommendations:
1. Don’t use illegal drugs, or abuse prescription drugs or alcohol. If you are doing this, be honest about it, seek help, stop using them, and let this be the model you set for your teen.
2. Create an environment in your home where communication goes two ways, and your teen’s opinions and ideas are sought out and respected.
3. Tell your teen what you love and admire about them, regularly.
4. Tell your teen about your family’s values surrounding drug use, and what you expect of them. Discuss (listen more than you talk) how drug use might impact their goals.
5. Don’t lie about the effects of illegal drugs and addiction. The truth is scary enough on its own.
6. Make sure your teen knows that if they ever have a serious problem, drugs or no, that you will support them and help them get the help they need.