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Even with a new batch of purported cases of Krokodil being used in the U.S., federal authorities say they are skeptical that the nightmare drug that originated in Russia has reached American soil.
Fears that the drug — which is made by cooking codeine with various toxic chemicals, including lighter fluid, gasoline and industrial cleaners — could make its way to the United States have mounted since 2011, when a Drug Enforcement Administration official told FoxNews.com it was on the agency's radar overseas. But even with a Joliet, Ill., drug treatment physician going public this week with word that he's seen as many as four users of the drug, the DEA is not ready to recognize it as an immediate threat.
“We, the DEA, are not seeing cases of it,” agency spokeswoman Dawn Dearden told FoxNews.com. “Nothing’s been turned into any of our labs. As far as the DEA is concerned, we have not seen any cases.”
The agency is not actively investigating the latest report or ones that surfaced late last month in Arizona, Dearden said.
Dr. Abhin Singla, director of addiction services at Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet, told The Herald-News that three patients have been treated this week at a suburban hospital for using the synthetic form of desomorphine that some say is ten times as powerful as morphine. The drug leaves users with gangrenous limbs, scaly, rough skin and an addiction often far too powerful to overcome.
"If you want to kill yourself, (using) this is the way to do it," said Singla.
Jan Ciccarelli, a spokeswoman for the treatment center, told FoxNews.com later Thursday that a fourth user of the drug has potentially been identified. Two of the initial three patients, she said, have left the center against the advice of physicians.
The original three patients being treated by Singla were local women under age 25 whose arms and legs were significantly maimed from gangrene. Two of them are acquaintances, so it’s possible they received the drug from the same source, but none of the patients would indicate where it was obtained. Singla said one woman likely faces years of surgeries if she is ever to walk again.
"It's a horrific way to get sick,” he continued. “The smell of rotten flesh permeates the room. Intensive treatment and skin grafts are required, but they are often not enough to save limbs or lives."
While three times more potent than heroin and roughly one-third of the cost, Singla said the “high” produced from the drug only lasts a few hours.
In 2011, DEA officials told FoxNews.com exclusively that it was monitoring the drug overseas, but had not verified its presence in the United States.
"We're looking at it overseas, but we have not seen it yet in the U.S.," DEA spokesman Rusty Payne told FoxNews.com in June 2011. "But we would not be surprised when that day comes."
The drug has a similar effect to heroin in the brain, according to the National Institute of Health, and has been used in homemade forms as a cheaper alternative to the drug in poor rural parts of Russia and Germany for the past decade.
The highly addictive drug, whose name derives from the scaly, green sores that develop near injection sites, was invented in 1932, according to New York’s Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS). The mixture of codeine and other chemicals like hydrochloric acid and red phosphorus quickly produces severe tissue damage, causing injury to the veins and gangrene. Severe withdrawal, spread of HIV through contaminated needles and death are other known consequences of use.
As many as 1 million people have used the drug in Russia, according to OASAS, and it has spread to other European countries, including Germany.
“The Russian government has considered some steps to curb this epidemic, including banning websites that explain how to make the opiate, placing codeine back into the prescription only category and increasing enforcement with escalated confiscation,” its website reads.
Singla, meanwhile, told The Herald-News that he spoke with DEA agents in Chicago early Wednesday on the matter. Special Agent Owen Putnam declined to comment when reached by FoxNews.com, referring all inquiries to DEA headquarters.
Calls to police officials in New York and Chicago and Joliet, Ill., were not returned.
“I’m not surprised,” Singla said of the reported cases. “Last week the first cases in this country were reported in Arizona and Utah and I’m startled how quickly it came east to our area.”
This reporter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.