The Crocodile’s Bite – Russia’s “Meth Problem” And Drug Reform – Explicit

It is a drug for the poor, and its effects are horrific. It was given its reptilian name because its poisonous ingredients quickly turn the skin scaly.  – The Independent

I have to start by saying that this post will contain some graphic images. Please click the links labeled graphic with caution – some of this is really quite sad and hard to see. I felt necessary to include them because I think that the true nature of drug abuse has to be seen by your own eyes in order to believe it. What drives people to inject literal hydrochloric acid into their veins? Only the junkie knows but by getting a glimpse at the state of despair that these people live, for me at least, gives a better sense of how desperate the situation really is. I have to admit that I became interested in this topic as a matter of narco-terrorism. With Russia being next door to the worlds producer of heroin and a border thats as long as the flight from the US to England, it’s no wonder that Russia is also the biggest consumer of heroin.

Struggle against drug trafficking

Joint US – Russian raid on drug labs in Afghanistan – RIA NOVOSTI

Narco-terrorism is the way that groups like Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Chechen separatists finance their wars against Russia and the US as well as weaken the population in those countries. They expedite the shipment and profit of the sales. With the war in Afghanistan driving down poppy production, there has been a gap between the amount of heroin supplied and what the addicts need. Krokodil fills that gap in the same way that meth has in the United States. It’s cheap to produce, using readily available materials, and turns it’s users into the living dead. In fact, the DEA is now monitoring this growing epidemic in Russia, with increasing concern about it’s spread.

While the United States requires a prescription for codeine (the main ingredient in krokodil), other countries like Canada do not. The DEA is even cooperating with it’s Russian counterpart, the FSKN – Federal Drug Control Service Of Russia. The joint effort is aimed at heroin production in Afghanistan. Both sides have a vested interest in seeing these labs taken out, but the catch 22 is that the poppy is Afghanistan’s cash crop. Millions of farmers subsist on the income they receive off poppy sales because often there’s simply no other alternative.

Girl lighting up a hit of krokodile - crocodile
Lighting up a hit – – some graphic content

The name, Krokodil, comes from the scaly greenish skin that addicts develop after repeated injections. The drug literally eats it’s user. They say that after your first hit the countdown on your life has already started. Enjoy the next 18 months of drug addled euphoria because that’s the typical life span of the user. Russia is looking at a tidal wave of new addicts as the decrease in Russia’s heroin supply (Russia is the largest consumer of Afghan heroine in the world), stemmed by the war in Afghanistan, has created a desperate wedge of users who cannot afford the rising price of heroin. Thus, Krokodile is born.

Here’s a video documentary that is definitely worth watching. Instead of throwing it up on this page, I thought I’d better link to it since it does contain some graphic imagery.

Krokodile Tears Part One – Vice – some graphic content

It’s a drug based on codeine – it’s real name is desamorphine and it has a chemical structure that is almost akin to heroins. The ingredients can be procured at any local pharmacy and the instructions for a proper cook are readily available on the internet. Though while a hit of heroin can give a high lasting 6-8 hours, krokodile is only good for maybe an hour and a half. It takes another hour to cook more. Some of the ingredients used to produce the desamorphine include gasoline, red phosphorous from matches, and hydrochloric acid. The user falls into a vicious cycle of shooting up and cooking almost continuously throughout the day.

I remember one day, we cooked for three days straight,” says one of Zhenya’s friends. “You don’t sleep much when you’re on krokodil, as you need to wake up every couple of hours for another hit. At the time we were cooking it at our place, and loads of people came round and pitched in. For three days we just kept on making it. By the end, we all staggered out yellow, exhausted and stinking of iodine.”- The Independent

The repeated injections cause gangrene and eventual tissue death. The high acidity of Krokodile dissolves muscle and bone leaving late stage addicts looking like something out of  horror film.

“If you miss the vein, that’s an abscess straight away,” says Sasha. Essentially, they are injecting poison directly into their flesh. One of their friends, in a neighbouring apartment block, is further down the line.

“She won’t go to hospital, she just keeps injecting. Her flesh is falling off and she can hardly move anymore,” says Sasha. – The Independent


The state apparently has the funds to operate treatment centers for these addicts but the main course of treatment in heroin addiction is methadone. The addict is gradually weaned off of heroin on medically controlled doses of methadone, a medically synthesized version of heroin. The physical pain of withdrawal lasts between one to two weeks. For krokodil users – withdrawal is a living month of hell.

One problem is that methadone is illegal in Russia and can’t be used for treatment. Another is that the state lacks the will to step in and is instead passing legislation that makes the punishment for narcotics harsher and setting punishment for heroin use at the same level as murder.

If the new laws are enacted, drug addicts will face imprisonment or be forced to undergo treatment for their addiction. And the treatment of drug dealers will be akin to that of serial killers. – The Lancet

These draconian measures are hoped to curb the exponential growth of users. Even the simple act of making codeine a prescription medication to prevent users from freely acquiring this main ingredient has fallen flat. Apparently, the pharmaceutical companies make about 25% of their profit from these sales.

rina Pavlova, a recovering krokodil addict, at the Chichevo rehab center in Russia, rocking Artiom Tiomkin — the baby of another

Irina Pavlova, a recovering krokodil addict. – Time

The only option for many of krokodil’s users on their last legs is a treatment center run by religious institutions. Those lucky enough to land a bed can at least hope for some measure of semblance in their lives. Though many groups are labeled as “sects”, synonymous with cult in Russian, at least they help. There’s just not enough money or willpower dedicated to fighting this problem and for an addict on krokodil, they’re a step away from death.

Read More: The Curse of the Crocodile: Russia’s Deadly Designer Drug – Time Magazine

Zhenya says every single addict he knows in his town has moved from heroin to krokodil, because it’s cheaper and easier to get hold of. “You can feel how disgusting it is when you’re doing it,” he recalls. “You’re dreaming of heroin, of something that feels clean and not like poison. But you can’t afford it, so you keep doing the krokodil. Until you die.” – 

The Independent

Could There Be Another Way?

There are many who speculate that the “hard” stance on drugs is actually counter-productive. The train of thought is that by making these drugs illegal, the market is pushed underground. Just because it’s illegal doesn’t mean there isn’t a demand for it. With the market now technically a black market, it’s characterized particularly by its de-regularization and literal “cut-throat” survival of the fittest scramble to fill that gap. Eventually, organizations such as Cartels rival the power of the governments. Ahem, Mexico.

The proposed theory is to legalize it. All of it. You heard right. Legalizing all the narcotics will do two things. Enable regularization and taxation. This allows for the addict to seek treatment instead of avoid punishment – which actually is the most cost effective choice since treatment taxes the state much less than incarceration. The money saved on enforcement is used to fund the treatment. The second part is that taxation enforces oversight as well as cutting into the profits of the drug organizations.

Yeah, right.

This all sounds like some Utopian dream conjured up by tourists in an Amsterdam “café”. There’s no way this will work?! Well, Portugal put its money where its mouth is and did just that in 2001.  Portugal had one of the worst drug problems in Europe at the time and a national commission recommended that piece of new legislation. The list of legalized drugs includes cocaine, marijuana, heroin, methamphetamine to name a few. Are these people nuts? Legalizing meth?

Nope. Portugal’s experiment was a resounding success. According to the Time’s article, Portugal has cut it’s drug problem in half. 

The Cato paper reports that between 2001 and 2006 in Portugal, rates of lifetime use of any illegal drug among seventh through ninth graders fell from 14.1% to 10.6%; drug use in older teens also declined. Lifetime heroin use among 16-to-18-year-olds fell from 2.5% to 1.8% (although there was a slight increase in marijuana use in that age group). New HIV infections in drug users fell by 17% between 1999 and 2003, and deaths related to heroin and similar drugs were cut by more than half. In addition, the number of people on methadone and buprenorphine treatment for drug addiction rose to 14,877 from 6,040, after decriminalization, and money saved on enforcement allowed for increased funding of drug-free treatment as well. – Time article – Drugs in Portugal: Does Decriminalization Work?

The article goes on to say that proportionally more Americans have tried cocaine than Portuguese have tried marijuana. Which coincidentally just became legal for recreational use in the states of Washington and Colorado. While the giggles might get the better of you, the issue actually has a lot of weight. The rest of the world is currently watching at how the Federal Government will respond. Several Latin American countries are considering legalizing some drugs, including a bill proposed by a Mexican lawmaker to legalize marijuana. The bill is unlikely to pass, but it is indicative of the frustration with the neighbor to the north as well as it’s war on drugs that so far has cost Mexico over 60,000 lives.

Read More: Mexico Marijuana Legalization Bill Introduced By Lawmaker – Huffington Post

It’s all tied together

So what does buying weed from your dealer have to do with the krokodil addict? Actually the connection isn’t too far removed. With the end on Marijuana prohibition in sight, or at least on the horizon, US lawmakers are taking notice of the Portugal case study. With the ineffectiveness of the War on Drugs clear as trillions of dollars have been spent over decades with no noticeable change in usage, the tendency is to be more open to different approaches.

The legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington for recreational purposes should be seen as the opening shots in the offensive to retake the ground lost in the War on Drugs. I sincerely hope that the system that governs 5% of the worlds population but holds 25% of the worlds prisoners can finally realize redefining the victory conditions for the War on Drugs should not be availability of drugs – but focusing on the human conditions that lead people to abuse drugs.

The legalization of pot will force the Federal Government to make a stance on whether it will enforce the issue. Prior to President Obama’s re-election, his administration took an ambiguous position on the issue. Now with his position secure, proponents of drug reform see this as their chance to make  the push.

Suppose the administration, in my opinion, makes the right decision and legalizes Marijuana. The far-reaching consequences could end up effecting those desperate enough to shoot up krokodil. If the change in attitude holds a steady course, perhaps even Russia will finally be swayed to follow suit – especially when one of it’s biggest allies in the War on Drugs – the U.S. – has implemented legalization. At least those in charge will be forced to acknowledge the problem not just with promises – but with money.

ABC  News report on Krokodil – Some graphic images

I hope that rational thought prevails and that ultimately the people that deserve society’s help the most receive compassion instead of scorn.

– Dmitry