Due to its proximity to the Afghanistan border, Russia has suffered an opiate problem for years.
At the time when krokodil made its way onto the drug scene, Russia reportedly had more heroin users than any other country in the world. Unofficial reports said there were up to 2 million heroin users.
However, the Russian government tried to stem the trafficking of Afghan heroin into the country and police began cracking down on dealers causing supply to dwindle and the street price of heroin to rise. This meant addicts could no longer afford their next hit and drove them towards alternatives.
Also around the same time, pharmaceutical company lobbying eased the restrictions on legal access to codeine-containing medication, and recipes for the drug could be easily found online. These factors all combined to make krokodil a popular alternative to heroin.
In hospitals in East Russia and Siberia doctors started noticing drug addicts with weird wounds. They had patches of flesh turning dark and scaly, like a crocodile’s.
By 2006 concerns were raised from regional police and medical services about the diversion of over-the-counter codeine medication to krokodil.
But it wasn’t until 2012 that the Russian government took any steps to combat the street drug. Russian media later suggested the lack of response may have been due to inappropriately close ties between the pharmaceutical company that made the popular codeine-containing medications used in krokodil, and the Russian federal health minister.
But during the time between concerns being raised and any action krokodil reached epidemic proportions. Russian seizures of krokodil drug grew by 40 times from two kilograms in 2006 to 100 kilograms in 2011.
In June 2012, after a year of debates, the Russian government finally restricted access to codeine-containing medications.
Scientific and media reports suggest these bans helped decrease the number of people using codeine to make krokodil and other street drugs began to pop up in its stead, such as bath salts.
However, krokodil was still used and in 2012, reports of krokodil-related injection injuries began to appear beyond Russia.
Russia and neighboring countries like Ukraine were most affected by the drug, but over the years there have been reports of its use and side effects in Western Europe, Australia, Canada, and the United States
How to make Krokodil:
Krokodil is made through a complex process of mixing and chemical reactions.
The first step requires a liquid like gasoline or household cleaning products to extract the codeine from over-the-counter drugs or other prescription opioids.
The isolated codeine is mixed with iodine, hydrochloric acid and phosphorous. When mixed together the isolated codeine becomes α-chlorocodide.
The mixture is then heated for 45 minutes so a chemical reaction can take place, turning the α-chlorocodide into desomorphine – the active ingredient that produces the euphoric like high. Sometimes users add cigarette ash to balance the pH of the mixture.
However, because a lot of the chemicals that are added to the mixture and the over-the-counter codeine isn’t pure, Krokodil contains numerous side products.
The “cooking” process takes at least half an hour all the while releasing toxic nitrogen oxide fumes.
Other fumes produced by the process give off an acrid smell. Some have described it as acid-like or that it smells like burnt iodine.
“It’s that smell of iodine that infuses all their clothes,” Russian doctor Artyom Yegorov told the Independent in an interview.
“There’s no way to wash it out, all you can do is burn the clothes. Any flat that has been used as a krokodil cooking house is best forgotten about as a place to live. You’ll never get that smell out of the flat.”
What does Krokodil drug look like:
At the end of the process, you’re left with an amber-colored substance. The liquid is inserted into a syringe and injected.