What Is Krokodil Made From? Main Ingredients, Cutting Agents, and Adulterants

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Krokodil is a combination of different substances that are combined with codeine; it first gained popularity in Russia. The drug is designed to be used in the same way as heroin, so it is most often injected. However, it’s cheaper than heroin and is often used in Russia and Eastern European companies as a heroin substitute.

Although some sources report that the drug is rampant in the United States, this is not true. There are, however, some suspected cases of krokodil use in the US.

What Is Krokodil? How It Is Made?

The manufacture of krokodil is an attempt to produce the drug desomorphine, a very powerful opiate drug. Desomorphine is classified by the DEA as a Schedule I controlled substance, meaning that it has no defined medical use, is a potential drug of abuse, and is likely to produce physical or psychological dependence in people who chronically use it.

Desomorphine is significantly more potent than morphine, has a shorter half-life, and a very fast onset of action, making it particularly attractive to opiate abusers. The drug is most often injected, but it can also be snorted or smoked and even taken orally. Krokodil is artificially manufactured using many different toxic substances.

Chronic use of the drug results in numerous abscesses of the skin, other tissue damage, including gangrene, and even a green scaly appearance to the skin that resembles a reptile, hence the name krokodil, like crocodile. The DEA reports that once a person begins chronically abusing the drug, their expected lifespan is as short as 2 years if they do not stop. The media has highlighted the associated skin and tissue damage that occurs in chronic users and have referred to the drug as the zombie drug or the flesh-eating drug.

Chronic users of the drug often have extremely reduced lifespans.

According to the DEA, the illicit manufacture of desomorphine is very similar to the way methamphetamine is made from ephedrine or pseudoephedrine. The process first begins by extracting codeine from medicinal products that contain the substance. Next, that extraction is mixed with an organic solvent like gasoline, and a strong base is added to the mixture like lye. Finally, an acid like hydrochloric acid is mixed in. This results in the production of codeine salts that can be extracted from the mixture. Some manufacturers may use other steps that further purify the codeine.

The next step is to mix the codeine that is been extracted from the above process with iodine, red phosphorus, and hydrochloric acid. This produces a drug called desocodeine. This substance is then chemically treated (demethylated) to produce desomorphine. Depending on the attention to detail of the manufacturer, the desomorphine can be relatively pure or poor quality. Most often, it is poor quality.

Because the quality of the procedure is often very haphazard, a large proportion of street krokodil is made up of very toxic byproducts, such as phosphorus and methyldesorphine (another opiate drug), in addition to some codeine byproducts. The phosphorus content of the mixture is extremely problematic because phosphorus can cause numerous necrotic diseases in people. People who inject the drug are at risk of developing numerous issues with chronic tissue damage that can become gangrenous, particularly around the injection sites. In many chronic cases, people with severe problems develop severe infections that can be potentially fatal and need to have their limbs amputated.

Numerous sources have reported that other natural and synthetic opiates may be present in some forms of krokodil, including heroin, fentanyl, and carfentanil (a synthetic form of fentanyl). Fentanyl has received significant notoriety due to its extreme potency and numerous overdose-related deaths when the drug is mixed with heroin or passed off as heroin.

Some manufacturers may add cutting substances to dilute krokodil. Most of these are the same substances used to cut heroin and other opiates and may include:

  • Starch.
  • Baking soda.
  • Mannitol (a diuretic).
  • Powdered milk.
  • Sucrose.
  • Laundry detergent.
  • Caffeine.
  • Talcum powder.
  • Crushed prescription or over-the-counter drugs.

Other Effects of Abuse

Aside from the effects of the drug that occur due to poor manufacturing procedures, desomorphine is also known to produce:

  • Euphoria.
  • Significant reductions in the perception of pain, stress, and anxiety.
  • Lethargy and sedation.
  • Loss of appetite and constipation in some people.
  • Decreased reflexes and motor coordination.

Other long-term effects associated with injecting Krokodil may include:

  • Blood poisoning and damage to blood vessels.
  • Contracting blood-borne viruses as a result of sharing needles.
  • Severe hypotension.
  • Respiratory issues due to the respiratory suppression effects of opioid drugs.
  • Severe damage to the liver.
  • Kidney damage.
  • Meningitis.
  • Organ damage due to chronic use or overdose.
  • The development of physical dependence or a substance use disorder.

Chronic users of powerful opiates like desomorphine may experience reduced oxygen supply to major organs, such as the brain—an overdose can lead to a total shutoff of oxygen to the organ, which can result in significant tissue damage in the brain and the development of severe neurological problems or even death. Moreover, chronic abusers of opiates like desomorphine often begin to neglect their self-care. When they use a significantly dangerous drug like krokodil, there is an increased potential that they will ignore infections and other physical problems, and these can become extremely serious very quickly.

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People with opiate use disorders as a result of desomorphine abuse need professional treatment. Those who develop opiate use disorders typically do not stop using on their own, and people who abuse krokodil are likely to have severe physical issues that require immediate attention. It is extremely important that these people receive professional help.

Assistance should include medical attention to any acute issues and placement in medical detox. Once detox is complete, the person should enroll in a long-term treatment program that includes continued medical management of any physical issues, psychotherapy for substance abuse, participation in peer support groups, and other forms of intervention to help them remain abstinent from opiates and other drugs.