A flesh-eating street drug that can make users look zombie-like is starting to show signs in the United States. Krokodil (pronounced crocodile) is named after the animal because of the green and black scaly sores users can develop. It's been called Russia's deadliest drug, because taken thousands of lives in Eastern Europe over the last decade since it first hit the streets. The injected drug, similar to heroin, is said to eat users from the inside out. "It naturally starts eating away at the skin, at the veins," said Ann Martinez, the director of nursing at the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage. "Longer term use and the flesh can be eaten to the bone. People can have bones exposed."
Doctors and addiction specialists across the United States are on high alert because the first unconfirmed cases of the opiate popped up in Arizona and Illinois. Dr. Euthym Kontaxis is the director of emergency medicine at Eisenhower Medical Center. He knows the risks users take when they inject krokodil into their bodies. "They can lose kidney function, liver function, brain function, on top of the cosmetic problems," said Kontaxis. "It's a tragedy, I think it's a cultural tragedy."
Doctors give an average krokodil user two to three years to live. Not that shocking when you consider the crude materials used to make it: codeine, gasoline, paint thinner, hydrochloric acid, iodine and red phosphorous, which addicts scrape from the striking pads on matchboxes. "When you start running out of money for a better drug, you go to a worse drug," said Dr. Kontaxis. "It's cheaper and it's more contaminated and you end up with these complications."
Not only cheaper but experts say stronger and more habit-forming than heroin. "It is so addictive that once someone picks it up, the likelihood of giving it up is not until they die," said Martinez.
"Be afraid," said Dr. Kontaxis. "There's something to be afraid of, especially when you're experimenting and you're young and you've never had any kind of experience with any kind of narcotic or alcohol."
While krokodil may be new to the U.S., Dr. Kontaxis and others in the medical profession want people to know, these disturbing side effects can occur with many hard drug addicts and that's the bigger issue. "Methamphetamines with heroin users that use needles and have poorly cut heroin or poorly made meth," said Kontaxis. "Those can do the same kind of injury to the skin."
No cases have been reported in the state of California, let alone the Coachella Valley. Medical professionals hope it stays that way.