Krokodil Russian Press Poster 01

KROKODIL: Flesh-Rotting Horror and Coming Plague?

How "home-brewed heroin" could soon be the end of the road for young, penniless American drug users

It all started outside Phoenix just last month. A drug abuse specialist found himself treating two patients with dead, scaly skin spreading over their limbs. The symptoms looked like a horrible case of gangrene—with hideous, open lesions.

The doctor reached an almost immediate diagnosis: His patients were addicted to krokodil, a Russian street drug that’s similar to heroin, but also rots flesh to the bone. This may have been the first sighting of the blight in America.


Since then, doctors in Oklahoma and Illinois have laid claim to similarly grim discoveries of krokodil, the use of which appears to be on the rise across the country, if gradually. Is this “home-brewed heroin”—which is behind a horrific plague in Russia, where millions of young people are addicted and rotting—a coming scourge for Americans?

Not quite yet. But there are warning signs. And there’s also a growing fascination here with the drug and its treacherous underlying chemistry.

International Journal of Drug Policy

Krokodil, formally known as desomorphine, is the moonshine of the drug world. The enormously powerful opiate is vastly cheaper than heroin to produce. It can be cooked at home using a variety of common ingredients, such as gasoline and codeine (found in most painkillers). Users say the drug is a pleasure-inducing upper like heroin, but the high is significantly stronger.


Don't try this at home. But you could, if you wanted to. Krokodil can be made with a number of household items including: 

  • Gasoline 
  • Red phosphorus (obtained by gathering the shavings after striking a matchbox strip)
  • Red iodine
  • Codeine (found in most painkillers)

The major difference between the two drugs—and it’s an important one—lies in krokodil’s tendency to rot your skin. Krokodil’s toxic combination of ingredients can rupture a user’s skin near the site of injection, leaving behind scar tissue. Once a user injects enough of the drug, his or her skin begins to flake off (like a crocodile or other reptile), ultimately rotting the flesh down to the bone.

What’s standing between 20-something American junkies and the lure of krokodil may be the cheap abundance of heroin (not the case in Russia). DEA spokeswoman Barbara Carreno explains in an email that “heroin is widely available in the US, along with over 200 varieties of synthetic drugs, such as the so-called fake pot and so-called bath salt drugs.” But all “so-called” good things come to an end.

Just as US addicts turned to heroin when prescription pills became prohibitively expensive and meth got harder to find, the concern is that krokodil will one day take the place of heroin when heroin becomes too costly or scarce.

(Barry Lewis/Corbis)

In fact, a recent journal article published in the International Journal of Drug Policy suggests that it’s heroin (or the lack of it) that instigated the krokodil boom in the Ukraine and Russia in the later years of the Soviet Union.

“Home production [of krokodil] developed in an era when closed borders effectively blocked the import of heroin and other ‘Western’ drugs,” the authors explain. As for how, exactly, heroin provoked the rise of krokodil, the authors point to “changes to heroin availability, purity and price due to heroin ‘droughts.’”

Back in the United States, fear of krokodil is already stalking the market. In early October, a doctor in Joliet, Illinois, admitted two sisters who say they resorted to the drug because it was so cheap. The sisters, heroin addicts for more than 10 years, started buying what they thought was heroin from dealers in Chicago, only to find that the drug was actually krokodil—or so they claimed. The DEA would later say it was just bad heroin.


The codeine used to create krokodil often still contains traces of gas. Users mix it with iodine, hydrochloric acid and red phosphorous to produce desomorphine, described by the chart below

Screen Shot 2013 10 24 at 1.06.30 PM

Screen Shot 2013 10 24 at 1.06.30 PM 

What’s scarier than a heroin “drought,” however, are the junkies who say they’d try the drug even if heroin was readily available. Deep in a thread titled “Krokodil Chemistry” on BlueLight, a drug forum that happens to have a Russian domain name, a number of voices suggest they’d try the drug if prepared correctly, (That is, a Walter-White-esque pure desomorphine without any gasoline leftover from the production process, and therefore, presumably, no rotting flesh.)

“I’d be down to try the pure form, aka <<clean>> form, not the homemade shit,” writes one user, PurpleKush1, in early October. The thread’s moderator, Guido, whose profile suggests he lives in New York, adds: “I have prepared it in the past for myself and a few friends when I was a heroin addict… When synthesized correctly with proper equipment and purified correctly it doesn’t cause any damage.”

Krokodil addicts experience krokodil’s signature skin-rotting symptoms only because they’ve cooked and injected impure desomorphine. In order to prepare clean desomorphine, addicts would have to extract pure codeine by mixing it with gasoline and acidified water, then allow the gasoline and the non-codeine elements of the painkiller to separate. But usually there’s gasoline leftover in the codeine mix, which is where all the danger begins.

The drug also happens to be a publicity boon for doctors who “discover” it, fueling further interest in the drug. Dr. Frank Lovecchio, the Arizona doctor who admitted the two patients with signs of krokodil abuse in September, initially believed he was the first to stumble on the use of the drug in the United States, telling Vocativ, ”The reason why it’s so attractive is because it’s so cheap.”

Only a few weeks later, however, the drug appeared outside of Joliet (and also, allegedly, in Oklahoma and Boston), and Dr. Lovecchio was forced to alter his account of his findings in early October: “We’ve since changed our rhetoric to say we were ‘one of the first.’”


For right now, however, there seems to be enough cheap heroin to stave off a mass krokodil epidemic. In its 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the national drug organization Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported that 9.9 percent of kids between the ages of 12 and 17 claimed they could “fairly eas[ily]” or “very eas[ily]” find heroin if they wanted to do so. An estimated 669,000 Americans used heroin last year.

How Do We Know

While krokodil abuse is still in its infancy in the US, we have been following the world wide spread of the drug in tandem with our correspondents in Russia. We're currently employing our technology to trawl everything from local news to social media for any rise in the drug's popularity. 

“Krokodil was created in some [Former Soviet Union] countries to be a heroin substitute for rural people who didn’t have access to heroin but DID have access to un-controlled, over-the-counter codeine,” Carreno explains. “Neither of those circumstances is the case in the US, so we wouldn’t expect the demand for krokodil here to be the same as there.”

And while the price of heroin fluctuates throughout the country and hinges on what strain of heroin you’re trying to buy, Mexican black-tar heroin is particularly cheap right now. It’s sold primarily on the West Coast.

A spokesperson at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) made clear that this “Russian magic” isn’t on the organization’s radar yet, asking over the phone, “This is the flesh thing, right?”

“We’re definitely concerned about it,” the spokesperson says, after clarifying. “It’s definitely dangerous. But it’s not yet being monitored. We’ve received calls about it because it’s been in the press.”

Right now, NIDA has relegated krokodil to its “Emerging Trends” section of its website. Also on that watch list: Sizzurp, Purple Drank and Molly.

Read here about new reports that Krokodil has surfaced in Ohio!

Respond Now
  • Oh exude me birch I mean

  • Great article about a truly degenerate nation. But why are you calling it “mother” Russia? It is the mother of nothing. There was no Russia until the 18th century, when csar Peter I renamed it from “the Grand Duchy of Muscovy” in order to justify stealing even more resources from Ukraine!

  • In my Opinion If u try it then its ur own Fault so Go fuck ur self 

    1 Reply - Reply Now
    • Yes, I agree! If a person is stupid enough to put that trash in a vain then… who cares. One or two years to live? Perfect! Less stress on our medical system.

  • Can I get the girls number at the top of the page?

    1 Reply - Reply Now
    • hey if you ever get her number, share it with me (maybe you’ll get a peek of some girl on girl action from us) if were both lucky, huh?

  • why the hell they want to inject this flesh eating shit are they so stupid cause stupidity is the only reason i can find….

  • why is there a “how to” ????? that is just plain stupid! you think that pictures of icky skin and rotting flesh will make them stop being curious…that should honestly be removed.

    2 Replies - Reply Now
    • I am sort of glad they write how to…. hope they learn their lessons or rot to death… there is no other way to stop it… just let them die or let them die… I may sound cruel, but I am glad they developed krokodil… now drug addicts will die in mass numbers, maybe that will make youth stop to even think about it… and that way era of sinthetic drugs will end!

    • My thoughts exactly. A bit of rotting flesh when your an addict is nothing, if not adding to the thrill and danger.

  • Show More
  • Это пиздец просто

  • this article contains some far-fetched estimations. even more – statistics quoted are just piece of crap. the author states there are “millions of young people addicted to crocodile in russia”. millions??! there are about 12 milions of people aged 20-24 in russia and 143 mln of citizens in general. if there were only 2 mlns of people aged 20-29 addicted to crocodile, it would be about 9-10% of all the people aged 20-29. really? i just think this is one huge bullshit.

    1 Reply - Reply Now
    • Does Russia’s behavior not inform you that a nation of addicts could be very likely true? The lack of introspection, the complete absence of empathy, the blaming and violence towards others are very typical of addicts. Russia is and has always been a nation of addicts and alcoholics, formed by Vikings and Mongols who have raped and pillaged the Slavic peoples around them for hundreds of years. It takes a lot of personal pain and a lot of help “forgetting” to manage that kind of lifestyle through the generations.

  • Being a fully recovered ‘junkie’ I can tell u from when I was using if your withdrawals are bad enough you will do Anything to not be sick anymore.  Its an awful cycle and if someone offers you something to take your pain away your probably going to take it.. so yes this is awful and looks disgusting but how can you sit there and point a finger when you have No sweet clue what your talking about.. this is sad.. these people are trapped! It isnt as easy as you make it out to be… just sayin..

  • Listen being a recovered “junkie” I can tell u when your withdrawals are bad enough you’ll do Anything to make the pain go away.. easy for you to say how gross and awful it is being a nirmal sober person I now would never touch anything like that but just sayin it could happen to anyone if the circumstances are bad enough. How can you point a finger when you have no fing clue what your talking about???

  • hahaha thanxs for the recipe??? im scared kids read this article and try it in home do some shit like this…. burn alive the little dump reporter who made this article!!!.

  • it is not good. the worst invention of addiction EVER!!!

  • As usual, with articles about this horrifying drug,The mast head includes a shot of a trucker beaten with a tire iron in a road rage incident.Other shots of the victim show the stitches and elongated welts from being hit with a bar. it happewned in Russia but apart from that it has no connection to “Krocodil” there are plenty of worse shots of the very real results of this drug” use.

  • In Soviet Russia, the drugs enjoy you.

  • Already can imagine bbc title : cannabis is more dangerous then krokodil 

  • *

  • this is the worst article enough. it only promotes the use of home made desomorphine to people who are already drug addicts.take it down.

    1 Reply - Reply Now
    • Agreed! I got the same message when I read it. Seriously no one in their right mind would ever attempt such a drug  even if there was a ‘possibility’ of not having your skin fall off

      1 Reply - Reply Now
      • Rizwan Rahman and Priyanjali Patil, they are not promoting the use of the drug. They are just giving the right information. If you are stupid enough you can go ahead and try it…This is the problem with Indians (narrow minded)…They see a man giving a friendly kiss on a girl’s cheek, they call it rape. I am also an Indian but not culturally and traditionally. Back to the point..I am an addict myself. But this article really supports gives me more confidence that I can beat drugs. Thank You. 

  • the new invented drug in russia…OMG!!!

    1 Reply - Reply Now
    • im sikkened by this drug i just got hooked on heroine and i hope to god i dont have this type called krokadil used by my dealer finds its way in my arm


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