Drug Policy

Media-Induced Krokodil Hallucinations Sweep the Country


NYS Office of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Services

The krokodil craze, my choice for the best drug scare of 2013, continues to sweep the country. Just to be clear: The craze is not, so far as anyone has been able to confirm, a pharmacological fashion among American drug users; rather, it is occurring inside the minds of yellow journalists and their enablers in the medical and law enforcement communities. Or is it the other way around? Sometimes it is hard to tell who is enabling whom as reckless claims by doctors and cops are picked up by the press, which encourages new reckless claims, which leads to more sensational coverage, and so on. The latest example (I think) is a report in The Prowers Journal, a Colorado newspaper, headlined "Local Law Officials Warn of Krokodil, Corrosive Drug Sold as Heroin." As usual, it features worried cops describing krokodil's horrifying side effects:

"It destroys tissue when it's injected into the body, and if you mainline it into a vein the long-term effects will see your body  eaten away from the inside out," explained Detective Dave Reid during a press conference for local media this past Tuesday, January 7. Some of the ingredients include gasoline, iodine, red phosphorous from match striker plates, codeine and several other corrosive products….

The corrosive compounds begin to break down body tissue to the point of open bleeding through needle penetration….Reid added that studies from Russia indicate the long-term user's body develops gangrene, phlebitis or blood-clotting and green scaly skin, hence it being called Krokodil. "Amputation for habitual users can become common, whether they inject the drug into a vein or tissue. Those who survive the drug develop speech problems, erratic body movement or just appear dazed."

Sounds bad, but what makes Reid and Police Chief Gary McCrea (also quoted in the story) think krokodil, a homemade concoction that originated in Russia as a heroin substitute, has caught on in Lamar, a small town in southeastern Colorado? The Prowers Journal says "the Lamar Police Department has sources that indicate [krokodil] is now being introduced to the area." Not satisfied? There's more:

[McCrea] said the first report the department received was from a man in a local store who was bleeding profusely from a venous injection and the police were told he was using Krokodil, but there was no official confirmation. The Chief did say there have been more recent reports of its use, but still, nothing on an official level. 

"No official confirmation"? What does that mean? It means that no drug user or drug sample has tested positive for desomorphine, the narcotic that Russian junkies aim to produce by mixing codeine with all those nasty chemicals. It seems there has been no such toxicological confirmation in Lamar, in Colorado, or anywhere else in the United States. "I'm not aware of any forensic laboratory that has come up with a desomorphine sample," says Joseph Moses, a spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). None of the putative krokodil samples tested by the DEA have contained desomorphine, and the agency has not seen a single positive result from any state labs either. "A lot of people want to call it a trend," Moses says, "but we're not seeing it."

Maybe Moses should have a chat with his colleagues in Texas. The day before yesterday, WOAI, a radio station in San Antonio, cited "the Texas DEA" as the source for a story headlined "Scary New Drug 'Krokodil' Seen for First Time in Texas." WOAI reports that a "17 year old girl from Houston checked into a hospital in the Mexican state of Jalisco, where she had gone to visit relatives over the holidays. She was complaining of digestive problems, and doctors noticed the fresh skin lesions and diagnosed the drug use."

As Moses notes, skin lesions can be caused by unsanitary injection of any drug. So why did the doctors in Mexico, the DEA agents in Texas, and the editorial staff at WOAI settle on krokodil? "Officials say the girl told them that she obtained and ingested krokodil in Houston," the station says. Unless this girl is a chemist with a well-equipped lab, it seems safe to say she has no idea what she actually bought in Houston; such uncertainty is a familiar hazard of the black market. Nevertheless, "DEA agents are now keeping an eye on Texas emergency rooms, to see if any more cases pop up here." You can be pretty sure more will, since drug users, doctors, reporters, and cops have been primed by alarmist reports from major news outlets such as USA Today, CNN, and Time to see krokodil even when it isn't there.

Speaking of major news outlets, here is how the Associated Press covered the same story:

Health authorities in western Mexico said Thursday they have detected a probable case of flesh lesions due to the drug Krokodil, often referred to as "the poor man's heroin."…

[The 17-year-old's doctor] said a survey of rehab centers and clinics in Jalisco had revealed there were no other local cases. He said so far, Mexico has detected only two probable cases, the woman in Puerto Vallarta and another person in the border state of Baja California.

Diagnosis is usually based on the tell-tale lesions, because the body quickly metabolizes the drug's psychoactive agent, desomorphine. 

So if you encounter a patient with lesions like those often seen in intravenous drug users and you don't detect desomorphine, you know you must be dealing with krokodil. The capper is the headline that The Christian Science Monitor put on the story: "Krokodil Drug Case Confirmed for US Patient in Mexico." Confirmed, unconfirmed—whatever.

Reporters covering this pseudo-story (with some honorable exceptions) not only have been unfazed by the total lack of toxicological evidence; they have not stopped to wonder why there would be a market for krokodil in the United States. Russian addicts turned to krokodil because heroin was scarce and codeine was available over the counter. Neither of those things is true in this country. "It's unlikely that we would see that shift," Moses observes, "when other substances are available."

As in the case of candy-flavored meth, the DEA (in Washington, anyway) has responded to the alleged krokodil menace by pointing out the lack of evidence to support what Moses calls "a lot of hype." It is a sad commentary on the state of American journalism when the federal agency in charge of waging the war on drugs sounds like the voice of calm reason in comparison to the anti-drug hysterics at leading news organizations.

Addendum: Moses says Steve Whipple, the DEA special agent interviewed by WOAI, did not intend to confirm the report of krokodil in Texas—only to say that it would be troubling if it were true.

[Thanks to Medicinal Colorado for the the Prowers Journal link.]


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  1. Feh. In my day kids just stuck vodka-soaked tampons up their butts.

    1. Before or after the Rainbow Parties?

      1. Before the Rainbow Parties but after the Vodka Eyeballing.

        1. Oh, for the days when we ritually sexually abused small children in satanic cults!

    2. We just went straight to butt-chugging.

      How come “butt-chugging” never got one of those word of the year thingies?

  2. People wouldn’t feel a need to try to cook their own desomorphine or meth if it weren’t for the War on Drugs, of course.

    1. At least people who weren’t competent amateur (or professional, I suppose) chemists.

  3. Rotting flesh caused by drug use? This is just yet another smoke screen the media are throwing up at the behest of the biopharmaceutical/military researchers to keep us off the story and unprepared for the impending zombie apocalypse.

    1. The zombie apocalypse hits and you have the opportunity to pick three weapons, three allies, and fortify a location.

      What weapons do you choose, who do you team up with, and where do you go?

      1. What kind of zombies?

        1. Walking Dead-style: slow-moving and only really dangerous in large swarms. Can only be put down by destroying the brain.

          1. Those zombies are distinguishable by their steely strong jaws and soft melon heads.

      2. I am so fucking tired of zombies. I was just having this conversation with some coworkers who were discussing the recent trend of zombie themed ammunition.

        1. Zombies are the McDonald’s of horror genre.

      3. What weapons do you choose…

        1. A small, easy to wield hand axe. Should come in handy for cutting firewood as well as for close in melee combat.
        2. An MP5-SD submachine gun with integral silencer (for obvious reasons).
        3. A crossbow. Because Darryl Dixon fucking rules.

        who do you team up with

        1. My wife, because I’ll need someone to fuck, and like me she’s an engineer, so we’ll be able to build shit.
        2. A doctor, CPA or at least a nurse, i.e. someone with medical training.
        3. Someone with military experience, preferably a sniper or Army Ranger/ special forces type badass.

        where do you go?

        Any one of these would do quite nicely.

      4. Naloxone.
        Methadone clinic.

        Because we now know that zombies will come from narcotics use.

  4. “A lot of people want to call it a trend,” Moses says, “but we’re not seeing it.”

    Sheesh, Moses: “A lot of people ….” Do you see it *now*?

  5. OT: from the rarest of animals – a libertarian economist in academia.

    The War on Poverty kept poor people poor

    In 2005, U.S. households below the poverty line were more likely to own any number of standard consumer goods than were poor families two decades earlier. They were more than twice as likely to own a dishwasher than in 1984, almost twice as likely to have air conditioning of some sort and more than seven times as likely to have a microwave oven.

    In absolute terms, nearly 73% owned at least one car, roughly two-thirds had a washer and dryer, and almost half had personal computers and cell phones.

    Poor U.S. households in 2005 were more likely to have these sorts of items in their homes than was the average U.S. household in 1971. The poor in America today own cell phones and personal computers, devices analogous to early color TVs, which were owned nearly exclusively by the very rich in 1971.

    Contrary to the official figures, the war on poverty has mostly been won, but not by the big spending of the federal government.

    1. “Contrary to the official figures, the war on poverty has mostly been won, but not by the big spending of the federal government.”

      Similar to the number of ‘food-challenged’ people in the US; we don’t talk about starvation anymore, just the number who have missed a meal in the last year.

    2. OT: from the rarest of animals – a libertarian economist in academia.

      Aren’t there actually a good number of these? Microeconomists and economists at schools that aren’t on the coasts tend to be very conservative/libertarian in their outlook.

      University of Chicago, Illinois, Wisconsin, etc. are all known for having libertarian leaning economists.

      1. George Mason University (on the East Coast!!11!!1!) is probably the most well-known of the libertarian economics schools.

        1. Yes, but the Chesapeake Bay is an estuary, thus it has a zone of freshwater.

          Saltwater vs. Freshwater maintains, bitches!


        2. And the Hoover Institution at Stanford.

      2. I have no idea but you and KK provide several good examples. While there might be several, and there is even a guy at Harvard of all places that is really good, I am not sure that group represents a sizeable portion of all academic economists. They might, I just don’t know, and it seems that the hard left economists get far more airtime and government administration posts?

        1. They might, I just don’t know, and it seems that the hard left economists get far more airtime and government administration posts?

          Statist economists are propped up by the ruling and journalistic classes. That’s why they tend to have more name recognition, with notable exceptions like Coase, Friedman, and Hayek.

          There are a lot of economists without the advantage of a subsidized soapbox who are conservatives and libertarians. Even economists like Thomas Sargent and Christopher Sims, who are hardly libertarians, don’t buy into all the left-wing dogma and have been critical of Keynesian arguments about aggregate demand and the multiplier.

          1. Statist economists are propped up by the ruling and journalistic classes. That’s why they tend to have more name recognition, with notable exceptions like Coase, Friedman, and Hayek.

            So? if I want to be a famous economist, I should advocate policies of maximum state power?

        2. I’m not just talking about “a guy” at George Mason, but the Mercatus Center.

    3. early color TVs, which were owned nearly exclusively by the very rich in 1971.

      Horwitz is a fucking idiot (as usual):

      In 1972, sales of color sets finally surpassed sales of black-and-white sets.

  6. Isn’t opium production in Afghanistan at record highs? Where is the heroin surplus going?

    1. Lamar, CO.
      They’re gettin’ all the good stuff.
      I’m stuck here smoking bath salts and shooting up cough syrup.

      1. Throw in some ultra high doses of Dramamine and you got yourself a party.

      2. Ha! I was fucking born in Lamar, CO. Don’t think I’ve ever seen it referenced…anywhere.

  7. Increase in trend stories seen across media. No government solution in sight.

  8. It destroys tissue when it’s injected into the body, and if you mainline it into a vein the long-term effects will see your body eaten away from the inside out

    Those who survive the drug develop speech problems, erratic body movement or just appear dazed.

    So this is how the zombie apocolypse really begins.

  9. Progressives continue making ridiculous arguments about how, if you really think about it, isn’t Romney worse than the people making fun of his black grandkid?

    Romney himself has not seen any need to apologize for his troubling assertion that Barack Obama’s 2012 victory was bought by the incumbent’s “extraordinary financial gifts” to minorities.

    I’m confused…he’s right, isn’t he? I mean, by the left’s own arguments Romney was right here!

    After all, why do progressives claim minority groups don’t vote Republican? Because Republicans would cut welfare and various other programs that go primarily to minority groups.

    So minority groups don’t vote Republican because Democrats give them things. This is something the Democrats themselves clearly believe, but when a Republican states the fact outright it suddenly becomes evil and racist.

    1. Like so many of our current maladies, the culture of reverse victimhood finds its origins in the Civil War, during which a region devoted to human bondage wrapped itself in the garb of an oppressed people shrugging off tyranny. A century later, in the civil-rights era, the South imagined itself besieged by “outside agitators” disrupting the heretofore amiable relations between the races. Conservatives, then as now, simultaneously denounced “victimology.”

      You mean conservatives like the left-wing New Deal Democrats who were running the South at the time?

    2. Since when does someone being a bad person mean it is okay to throw racial slurs at them and insult their children? Is the left now okay with calling black criminals the “N” word?

  10. a man in a local store who was bleeding profusely from a venous injection

    Well, I’m not shopping there anymore.

  11. checked into a hospital in the Mexican state of Jalisco

    Behind the Tortilla Curtain.

  12. Could someone explain this story? I still don’t get it. Are they claiming that people will willing use a drug that eats their flesh? That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. You can buy non flesh eating heroin and opiate pain killers in any city in America. Why would people want the flesh eating kind?

    1. I dunno, maybe we’ve reached the beginning of the End Times?

      1. The story never made any sense. No high is worth this, especially when it is just heroin that can be obtained about anywhere.

        1. I dunno the VICE documentary was pretty convincing and graphic. I can totally imagine that people living in a Siberian shithole of poverty would be so desperate as to inject flesh-eating poison into their flesh for even a moment’s respite of numbness.

          1. Sure, it makes sense if you’re in Siberia but this is America.

          2. If people are so desparate to get even a monetary escape from their situation they will inject a flesh eating poison into themselves, the availability of the poison is the least of your problems.

            Maybe some people somewhere have done this. It would seem to be a problem that will correct itself.

        2. And there are substitutes for heroin like Oxycontin which has the added benefit of not being flesh eating.


    3. See above. This is just a cover story for the approaching zombie apocolypse.

  13. The krokodil craze…continues to sweep the country.

    Really? If I asked a relative or a friend or a co-worker what he thought of krokodil, I’d be met with a blank stare. Sometimes it’s good to step away from the fire hose and sample reality.

    1. I’d be met with a blank stare.

      *** clears throat ***

      “Those who survive the drug develop speech problems, erratic body movement or just appear dazed.”

  14. compare and

    Doctors confirm: Use of flesh-eating opioid drug krokodil is spreading in U.S.

    You can assure your relatives this Thanksgiving that the ‘knockout game’ is mostly hype

    1. Bonus, same damn “journalist” wrote both.

  15. Media-Induced Krokodil Hallucinations Sweep the Country

    OK, OK, Jacob, I’ll buy your hyperbole, but only if by “media-induced” you mean time-filler blather that no normal person pays attention to; and if by “sweep” you mean something that passes right over the heads of serious people.

  16. There’s no reason that Krokodil analogues couldn’t show up in the US.

    Krokodil’s emergence showed people that it is possible to synthesize your own opiates at home, and based on the recipies I’ve read, if you know your stuff, you could actually make reasonably pure desomorphine.

    Of course, if you do it wrong, you’re fucked, but I have no problem believing that some idiot somewhere in the US overestimates his ability to do chemistry and fancies himself a real-life Walter White.

  17. “a sad commentary on the state of American journalism”

    Good night and have a pleasant tomorrow.

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