Flesh-eating Krokodil drug surfaces in Chicago suburb

A bag of heroin and drug paraphernalia are seen at an abandoned house.

A bag of heroin and drug paraphernalia are seen at an abandoned house.  (REUTERS/Bor Slana)

Three patients have been treated this week at a southwest suburban Joliet hospital in Chicago for using a synthetic opiate that doctors say rots the skin from the inside out.

"If you want to kill yourself, (using) this is the way to do it," said Dr. Abhin Singla, director of addiction services at Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet.

Krokodil, which is Russian for crocodile, started being manufactured about a decade ago in Russia, where heroin is harder to find, Singla told the Herald-News.

Codeine tablets are mixed with gasoline, paint thinner, butane and other chemicals to create an injectable drug, he said.

"It's about three times more potent than heroin, but the ‘high' lasts only for a few hours," Singla said. And a hit of Krokodil costs about $8, while users pay $25-$30 for heroin.

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But the chemicals destroy the blood vessels and begin killing tissue near the injection.

"You literally start rotting from the inside out," Singla said.

The first warning sign users will see are redness and blackness around the needle mark. They'd probably be hurting too if they hadn't just taken a painkiller.

Gangrene develops and gives the dead skin a scaly green appearance, which provided the name of the drug.

"This has been an epidemic in Russia. The average life expectancy of someone using Krokodil is less than two years," Singla said.

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