Information on the Drug Krokodil

It sounds like something out of a science fiction or zombie horror movie: a young man injects himself with a drug and sores start developing on his body as the drug slowly eats the man from the inside out. But it isn’t a movie plot. It’s a drug that actually does destroy the tissue and muscles of drug users, leaving them with painful lesions and zombie-like rotting flesh. The drug is called krokodil, and here’s what you need to know about it.

What is Krokodil?

Krokodil is made from a combination of household chemicals and drugs. Its official name is desomorphine, but it was given the name krokodil—like crocodile–for the green scales that develop at the injection site. The drug can easily be made at home with a toxic combination of gasoline, paint thinner, codeine, and other household substances. Krokodil is injected like heroin, and it’s known as the drug that eats junkies.

Where Did Krokodil Come From?

Krokodil comes from Russia, or at least that’s where the first cases developed in 2003. No one is certain who first came up with the drug or even why it was developed except to provide a stronger high than heroin. The Provena Saint Joseph Medical Center reports that heroin is hard to find in Russia, and so krokodil developed as a substitute. It costs less than a tenth of what heroin costs while also providing a significantly higher, but much shorter, “high.”

Is Krokodil Contagious?

The side effects from krokodil are not contagious; they require shooting up the drug. So far, all of the reported cases have been from individuals who admit to using the drug. It is not contagious because the breakdown at the cellular level occurs after the injection. The chemicals themselves create the abscesses, lesions, wounds, and gangrene.

While the gruesome effects are not contagious, experts are still concerned about a potential epidemic because of the inexpensive and extreme high that the drug provides. The first two alleged cases in the United States involved two women who claim that they thought that they had purchased and were injecting traditional heroin, not a substitute. It’s unclear whether the drug is being sold specifically as krokodil or if dealers are simply substituting the cheaper alternative under the guise of heroin.

What Makes It a Flesh-Eating Drug?

The drug itself sets to work within the body as soon as it is injected. It starts breaking down the tissues and muscles around the injection site, spreading as it does. The toxic substances produce a high, similar to morphine and heroin. As drug use continues, the injection sites turn green and scaly. Gangrene and tissue erosion develop throughout the affected areas as well as phlebitis. Eventually, the tissues and muscles are so eroded and living bone could be exposed. The skin around the surrounding area becomes scaly and green, but it’s unknown exactly how long it takes for symptoms to develop. In the known cases, people have not started seeking treatment until additional corollary symptoms have developed such as intense nausea, vomiting, and migraines. However, the lesions and wounds themselves are exceptionally painful, causing the users to shoot up more drugs in an attempt to stop the pain. As the tissue rots, it becomes prone to additional infections and even parasite infestations. Eventually, it even rots through the bone as well, spreading throughout the marrow.

Where Is Krokodil in Use?

Russia reported its first cases in 2003 with an estimated 1.2 million addicts using it despite the knowledge of its devastating effects. Living Healthy reports that other sightings have been found in Germany and the Czech Republic. Fortunately, only a few cases have been reported in the United States, with information still be uncovered currently as to certain specifics. One of the first cases in the United States took place in Illinois with a few other sightings in Utah and Arizona. It’s unknown how many Americans have used the drug.

Is Krokodil Something That Can Be Treated?

Current treatments and cures are uncertain and based on the symptoms. According to the Herald News, krokodil usage creates significant complications for treatment facilities. Withdrawal symptoms, which include headaches, stomach cramps, and intense cravings, last for a month or more. Russian doctors report that death can occur anywhere from 12 – 18 months after using the drug, but it’s not clear how many injections produce this result.

If you believe that you or someone else has been using krokodil, you need to seek immediate medical treatment from a doctor to avoid or at least reduce the likelihood of amputation, skin grafts, and even death.

Krokodil has garnered a great deal of press lately as graphic reports of the drug’s terrifying, zombie-like side effects continue to surface. Treatments are still in the development stages as are the appropriate methods for identification of early symptoms before the gangrene and scales set in. However, what is clear is that krokodil is a dangerous drug that has horrific side effects.


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.