Beware of the flesh-eating Krokodil

RandAid React logo(2)Although Wedge Gardens has yet to encounter the world’s most alarming drug, therapists at the Rand Aid Association rehab centre and their colleagues around the country dread the day when widespread use of Krokodil takes root in South Africa.

The drug was developed in the poorer areas of Russia as a cheap alternative to heroin. Its medical name is desomorphine but it is commonly known as Krokodil because of the terrible effect it has on a user’s skin.

“Krokodil is a mixture of codeine and highly toxic substances. It is easy to make at home and once injected, the high lasts between 90 minutes to two hours,” says Lizette Treurnich, a social worker at Wedge Gardens treatment centre.

“The drug surfaced in Russia about a decade ago, and now seems to be slowly infiltrating America. Although there are no known Krokodil statistics in South Africa, a number of cases have been reported at emergency units, especially in the Western Cape. Because Krokodil is cheap, easy to make, uses easily accessible ingredients and induces a powerful high, it is only a matter of time before this drug becomes popular in South Africa,” says Treurnich, adding that according to reports, the drug has been noted to be fast-acting and eight to 10 times more potent than morphine.

Addicts pay a heavy price for Krokodil’s cheap high, however. A murky yellow liquid with an acrid stink, Krokodil is known as the flesh eating drug. When injected, it causes blood vessels burst and surrounding tissue to die, sometimes falling off the bone in chunks. That side effect has earned Krokodil its other nickname: the zombie drug. The typical life span of an addict is just two to three years.

“Withdrawal symptoms are extreme – much worse than heroin,” says Treurnich. Heroin can cause sickness and pain for up to 10 days but withdrawal from Krokodil can result in a month of excruciating pain. Doctors dealing with addicts say that this is the strongest level of addiction and the hardest to cure. Treurnich adds that if a person does manage to stop using Krokodil, they are often left with permanent damage include speech impediments, a vacant gaze and erratic movements.

Signs of use include scaly lesions at injection sites and grey and green, scabrous, flaky skin. Photos of the effects of Krokodil are too graphic for publication but can be sourced online.

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