“Krokodil” in Your Neighbourhood?

Photo: Lucian Tidorescu

A flesh-rotting drug named ‘krokodil’ has devoured its way across Europe, according to the German Media. Drug experts try to calm fears over a spread to England by claiming it to be mere media-scare.

The German Media calls it the “death-drug”, since its ingredients make the user rot to death while being alive. After four cases with “krokodil”-like symptoms were diagnosed in Bochum, Germany’s biggest newspaper, Bild, wrote: “The horror-drug has now appeared in the Ruhr.” The Spiegel Online even wrote: “The problem seems to be nationwide.”

The British Drug Scope, the Independent Drug Monitoring Unit and the Metropolitan police have all stated that there have been no confirmed cases in England and that a spread is unlikely but not impossible. Martin Barnes, Chief Executive of Drug Scope, says: “Misuse of desomorphine (a main component of the drug) is a major problem in Russia, but as yet, we have no evidence to suggest that the drug is being used in the UK.”

Dr. Heino Elsner, head doctor of the Krisenhilfe Bochum (emergency aid Bochum), who diagnosed the cases, says: “We had four cases with symptoms typical for the drug ‘krokodil’ (crocodile), but we cannot prove it. Other ingredients than those typical for “krokodil” could also have adulterated the heroin of the users.” He adds: “The media exaggerated, there has never been a proof.”

Spread of the drug unlikely

Matthew Atha from the Independent Drug Monitoring Unit opines: “It’s unlikely that the drug will spread in Europe like it did in Russia. Codeine, the main ingredient, is difficult to procure in most of Europe, unlike Russia where you need no recipe for it.” The high consumption of the zombie-drug in Russia is due to its low prize, which can be as cheap as £2 per pack.

“Krokodil” or “Krok” derives its name from the green-brownish and scabby skin that the user gets before his flesh falls apart. Until recently the drug was only known as a major problem in Russia, where an estimated hundred thousand people became users since the drug first appeared in 2003.

Matthew Harris adds: “In countries where codeine is more expensive and more difficult to get hold of, it would be cheaper for dealers to dilate heroin with other ingredients than codeine. If you want to produce “krokodil” in the UK yourself, you need to extract the Codeine from other drugs such as Paracetamol and turn it into Desomorphine. This requires at least basic chemical knowledge.”

Media responsibility concerning drugs

The drug expert is concerned that the Media might help the drug to spread, by creating a hype instead of warning people. Also Dr. Elsner says: “As long as the media warns people, it does the right thing, but this time it was more about sensationalism.”

Although the Bild Online wrote a few days after their first report that the cases were probably not related to “krokodil”, they added: “Nevertheless, “krokodil” is spreading over Germany and eats up addicts.”

While neither experts nor the police are hundred percent sure that the drug will not reach England, Martin Barnes reconfirms: “Desomorphine is controlled under the UK’s Misuse of Drugs Act.  This means that UK police and authorities would be able to act swiftly and robustly should use of the drug emerge in this country.”


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