Desomorphine aka Krokodil





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by Voice-Out

Heroin users in Europe have been known to turn to Krokodil – the ‘poor man’s heroin’, but generally people don’t last long on it. It’s estimated they will die within two years of the addiction beginning.

by Voice-Out

‘I remember one day, we cooked for three days straight,’ says one of Zhenya’s friends. ‘You don’t sleep much when you’re on krokodil, as you need to wake up every couple of hours for another hit. At the time we were cooking it at our place, and loads of people came round and pitched in. For three days we just kept on making it. By the end, we all staggered out yellow, exhausted and stinking of iodine.’(

Short introduction
Desomorphine or ‘krokodil’ is an opioid, which gets its name from how a user’s skin becomes greenish and scaly, just like that of a crocodile. It’s reportedly as much as ten times stronger than heroin and eight-to-ten times stronger than morphine, but is cheaper and much more toxic. Usually it is home-cooked.

The science
First produced in the 1930s in the United States, the desomorphine compound was much more powerful than morphine, but its effects did not last as long. Though it was briefly marketed under its brand name Permonid, it was only in the early 2000s that the abuse of home-synthesised desomorphine was reported in eastern and middle Siberia.

Generally, desomorphine is home-made from a combination of:

  • Codeine-based tablets
  • Hydrochloric acid
  • Red phosphorous (from matchbox strike plates)
  • Iodine
  • Gasoline
  • Lighter fluid
  • Paint thinners.

Sometimes over-the-counter eye drops (tropicamide) are added to make the high last a little longer.

About a third of the cost of heroin.

Methods of use
Heroin users in Europe have been known to turn to Krokodil – the ‘poor man’s heroin’, but generally people don’t last long on it. It’s estimated they will die within two years of the addiction beginning. Users cook up their drugs in their own kitchens to ensure that they can remain high. Cooking up takes a half hour to an hour and for addicts, may become a full-time job. Their concoction is a fudge-coloured liquid, which they then inject. Often their skin becomes damaged and gangrenous – one only has to Google a few images to see the destruction this drug will cause.

Effects on the user
Users experience a high of a maximum an hour and a half. The high is similar to the one experienced with heroin.

Harmful side effects and health risks

  • Skin turns a yellowish-green and scaly before gangrene sets in
  • Ulcers around the injection side
  • Ruptured blood vessels
  • Burning or swelling of the veins (phlebitis)
  • Flesh rots to the bone
  • Rotten teeth fall out
  • Brain damage
  • Tetanus
  • Blood poisoning and other infections
  • Amputations
  • Blood-borne diseases from shared needles e.g. hepatitis and HIV.

Overdose potential
The high dosage of iodine can disrupt the glands in the body from producing the hormones needed for muscle control. Bone tissue is destroyed by phosphorus. The nervous system is attacked by heavy metals such as iron, zinc, lead and antimony, which can lead to inflammation and the liver and kidneys shutting down. The circulation will be cut off and essentially the user will rot to death. Most reports talk of lengthy, agonising deaths, not overdose.

Withdrawal symptoms
Withdrawal is extremely painful and reportedly much worse than with heroin. While a heroine withdrawal can last up to ten days, a krokodil withdrawal lasts about a month and the patient will need tranquilisers in order not to lose consciousness from the pain. It is one of the hardest addictions to treat and if the user survives may be left with amputated limbs, speech impediments, an empty gaze and loss of motor skills.

Krokodil and the law
Krokodil is an illegal substance in South Africa, as per the Drug and Drug Trafficking Act 140 of 1992. The manufacturing, dealing, use and/or possession of krokodil are unlawful. A person convicted of an offence under this Act could face a serious fine, or even imprisonment.

Street Names
Krokodil | Crocodile | Poor Man’s Heroin                                                                                                                    

Images for drugs – krokodil