Philip Seymour Hoffman

DEA Debunks Krokodil Sightings


NYS Office of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Services

Since September officials around the country have been reporting sightings of krokodil, the notorious homemade desomorphine concoction that produces, along with a heroin-like high, gruesome pictures of necrotic flesh, caused by a combination of corrosive contaminants and unsanitary injection habits. A week and a half ago, for instance, Brian Brady, the interim police chief of Dillon, Colorado, told the city council his officers had come across krokodil on the streets of the tiny Summit County town. ""We're seeing a trend big time," he claimed. A reader posted a link to that story on Facebook, accompanied by a one-word comment: "Bullshit." The Drug Enforcement Administration seems to agree:

DEA is aware of and tracking the nationwide reports of alleged abuse of the controlled substance desomorphine that is found in the drug krokodil, a homemade substitute for heroin invented and used in rural Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. 

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 analysed an exhibit found to contain desomorphine. A sample sent to our Chicago forensic laboratory that was suspected to be krokodil was actually heroin.

As the International Business Times notes, "Experts have said it is unlikely the drug has even really left Russia, as it is only used by people in remote parts of the country where heroin has become too expensive or unavailable—it is turned to as a last resort among addicts." Russian junkies resorted to krokodil because 1) heroin was hard to come by and 2) codeine, which can be converted into desomorphine using common chemicals, was available over the counter. Since neither of those things is true in the United States, it hardly seems plausible that krokodil would appeal to American drug users. What seems to be happening is that cops, primed to think krokodil would be coming soon to their jurisdictions, are attributing yucky skin conditions associated with careless heroin injection practices to the exotic "flesh-eating drug."

American krokodil apparently belongs in the same chimerical category as candy-flavored meth, another drug scare the DEA helped debunk. Sadly, American journalists are so eager to hype the drug menace du jour that they make the DEA sound like the voice of calm reason.

Last month Brian Doherty noted the lack of evidence that krokodil was catching on in the United States, and I noted that the drug's special hazards are entirely attributable to prohibition.