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Desomorphine: The Drug that Dismembers


Opioids are drugs that healthcare providers may prescribe to relieve pain. However, many opioids are abused and found across the black market. 

Several different kinds of opioids exist. Some of these opioids have properties that help to alleviate pain, while others can have detrimental effects on the well-being of an individual. Opioids like morphine are derived naturally from poppy plants, whereas synthetic opioids such as fentanyl are artificial. Doctors may prescribe opioids to patients experiencing severe pain for short periods after major surgery, injury, or resistance to other treatments. 

Opioids function by binding to the brain’s opioid receptors and inhibiting pain signals. Since opioids increase dopamine production, they increase a person’s feelings of pleasure and can be highly addictive. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 130 people die from opioid overdose daily in the United States.

Desomorphine is a synthetic opioid developed in the 1930s as a pain reliever. Although Desomorphine is derived from morphine, the effects are ten times stronger, making it a highly addictive substance. Most people begin using desomorphine because they consider it a less expensive form of heroin.

Desomorphine, also known as “krokodil,” is a potent drug with lethal effects. If you or a loved one is ingesting desomorphine or abusing other opioids, it’s essential to seek help immediately.

What Is Desomorphine?

Desomorphine is commonly referred to by its street name “krokodil,” which is the Russian spelling of crocodile. Desomorphine has other street names you have heard, including: 

  • Krok
  • Croc 
  • Alligator drug
  • Krocodil

In the early 2000s, desomorphine grew in popularity in Russia. The easing of restrictions around codeine-containing medication (CCM) started a wave of popularity for the drug. Additionally, the access to codeine-synthesizing chemicals dramatically increased the drug's use. 

People created desomorphine by synthesizing codeine and mixing the end product with ingredients like:

  • Hydrochloric acid
  • Iodine
  • Gasoline
  • Lighter fluid
  • Paint thinner

These additives caused deadly side effects in Russia, with seizures of krokodil growing by 40 times from 2006 to 2011. Although Russia and Ukraine have experienced the most significant impact from desomorphine use, the drug has also been abused in the United States.

Desomorphine Uses

In 1935, doctors began using desomorphine to manage pain caused by trauma. Since desomorphine is stronger than morphine but has a shorter duration, doctors used the drugs on patients before and after surgery.

Currently, there is no medically accepted use for desomorphine in the United States. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has classified desomorphine as a Schedule I substance since 1936. The Schedule I classification means desomorphine also has a high potential for abuse.

Desomorphine use is more common in Russia partly because codeine tablets are available without a prescription. Users can easily combine other substances with codeine to create krokodil, which they are most likely to do when they cannot purchase heroin.

Desomorphine Side Effects

The severe side effects of krokodil have been highly publicized. Various publications deemed krokodil a “flesh-eating” drug. When a person becomes addicted to krokodil, they typically die of complications from drug use within three years. In 2012, Russia banned over-the-counter codeine sales to reduce the chance that people would continue to manufacture krokodil. However, people continue to obtain codeine on the black market.

When someone injects krokodil, they develop scaly green or black skin shortly after that. Users do not need to inject high amounts of the drug for it to cause severe tissue damage. Despite these significant health risks, addicts continue to abuse desomorphine due to its low cost in comparison to heroin. In Europe, a dose of krokodil is only a few dollars, whereas a gram of heroin is $20.

If a person continues to use krokodil, they will inevitably experience side effects that could lead to an early death. If someone you know is using opioids such as desomorphine, confirm their drug use with a drug testing kit and seek treatment from licensed professionals.

Skin Necrosis

Reports state that, after a person injects desomorphine, they develop extreme swelling and physical pain at the point of injection. Then, the skin becomes discolored and scaly. From there, ulceration occurs, and the tissue dies.

The skin necrosis that occurs directly results from the harmful additives that people use to create krokodil. Furthermore, the drug is not purified before users inject it, which may also cause skin necrosis.

Muscle and Cartilage Damage

As the ulcerated skin develops, severe muscle and cartilage damage occurs. The skin eventually falls off and exposes the user’s bone as the skin continues to ulcerate. Given the highly addictive nature of krokodil and the need for relief from intense pain, users often fail to seek treatment until the damage is irreversible. 

Blood Vessel Damage

If a person does not stop using krokodil, it may damage blood vessels, which prevents tissues from receiving blood flow. This can lead to the development of gangrene, which is when a part of your body has a bacterial infection or isn’t receiving enough blood and dies. The use of krokodil may also cause thrombophlebitis, which is when the vein becomes inflamed as the result of a blood clot.

Bone Damage

Bone infections and bone death may occur in parts of the body that are not near the injection site. This occurs because bacteria can enter the bone through the wounds and cause an infection within the bone. As the infection spreads within the bone, the blood flow stops, and the bone dies. If this occurs, amputation is required to treat the damage.

Prevent Illicit Drug Use with Countrywide Testing

If you suspect that a loved one may be using desomorphine or other dangerous substances, resources can assist you in detecting illegal drug use. By identifying the drug use, you can confirm your suspicions and take the first step in helping your loved one move past substance abuse to a healthier lifestyle. To help you get started, Countrywide is here to help.

Countrywide Testing is an online retailer of many health-related diagnostic test devices, including drug tests. If you’re concerned that a loved one may be abusing an illegal drug, let Countrywide Testing offer you peace of mind with our FDA-approved at-home drug testing kits. Our drug kits are all analyzed with laboratory services from Phamatech, Inc, a SAMHSA, ISO, CLIA, and CAP licensed laboratory, to provide you with fast and reliable results that you can trust.

When you need answers, Countrywide is here. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help!