The Curious Case of Junk That Eats Junkies: Flesh-rotting drug “krokodil” grips Russia

George Romero himself couldn't make this shit up. But after reading about the horrors of the newly popular Russian street drug known as krokodil (see: the Independent's June 22 article "Krokodil: The Drug That Eats Junkies"), one has to wonder when this nightmare smack will find its way into the plot of a zombie flick. Imagine the following scene, if you will.

Dmitry the Junkie cooks up a fix. His dealer is a sneaky fellow who always seems to have the good stuff. "Try the ‘crocodile,' " he says. Dmitry never cared what his horse was called, so long as he could ride it. The menacing opening lick of "Gimme Shelter" slowly fills the dingy basement room as the spoon comes to a boil. He loads it, shoots it, and moments later, euphoria streams through his veins. But the poison is in his blood now -- it's only a matter of time before his arm starts to blacken and rot, as the gangrene sets in. It doesn't matter; as long as he can get another hit ...   

Sounds like a craptastic scare tactic from some DARE class, right? "Sure, pal, a drug that eats your flesh." But we assure you, readers, this is very real.

Krokodil (or "crocodile") is desomorphine, a synthetic opiate first brewed up here in the US of A. in 1932, and a scourge that's currently ravaging Russia. Essentially, desomorphine is a sedative and analgesic that acts much faster than morphine. But this stuff is nasty: "to produce krokodil ... addicts mix it with ingredients including gasoline, paint thinner, hydrochloric acid, iodine and red phosphorous, which they scrape from the striking pads on matchboxes," Time tells us. The poisons cause the flesh to turn scaly -- hence, "crocodile" -- and should a user miss the vein, they are marked with swells, blisters and boils. The Independent reports: "Photographs of late-stage krokodil addicts are disturbing in the extreme. Flesh goes grey and peels away to leave bones exposed. People literally rot to death." The life expectancy of a full-blown, hardcore krokodil addict is one year.

Why would ANYONE get into this stuff, you may ask yourself. In Russia, krokodil is cheaper, stronger, and easier to get ahold of than regular heroin -- thanks to a major drug-enforcement crackdown, and the fact that the base ingredients of krokodil (like codeine) are readily available in pharmacies.

Russia's heroin problems are staggering: according to unofficial sources, there are some two million users -- more than any other country -- and the drug causes some 30,000 deaths per year. The major source of smack in Russia comes from its neighbor, the heroin heavyweight champion, Afghanistan. But as efforts from law enforcement seek to stifle the flow of heroin in the country, users have sought out cheaper and more readily available alternatives -- and so the krokodil epidemic was born.

And though the drug is more potent, the high is fleeting -- it only lasts for around 90 minutes. The Independent notes: "Given that the "cooking" process takes at least half an hour, being a krokodil addict is basically a full-time job."

While this terrifying drug has not yet made its presence market here in the US, it's hard to ignore the dangers of a substance you can make in your bathtub that has the potential to create real-life zombies -- not flesh-hungry brain eaters, but lifeless, decomposing empty vessels possessed by a singular desire. For now, we can be thankful that the only zombie potion currently being brewed in the States is our beloved crystal meth.


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