The Bite of the Krokodil


The word, “krokodil” is Russian. It means pretty much what is sounds like, the nasty-tempered river dwelling, bite-your-face-off reptile. It’s the nickname for a particularly dangerous opioid that’s made its way through the Russian drug abusing community and left dead, dying and damaged in its wake.

The product is sold as a cheaper substitute for heroin. Krokodil is about ten times stronger than morphine and provides a high similar to heroin, so, for addicts on a budget, the economics sound right. The reason the drug, properly called desomorphine, is cheaper is because of how it’s made. And that too is where the crocodile gets its bite.

Krokodil is made in the same type of home lab setups that led to meth cooking in the US. But the croc starts with codeine, the pain ingredient found in Tylenol #3 and #4 (as well as generics). In some mixtures you can get it without a prescription in Russia. This is similar to the situation in the States before pseudoephedrine was regulated. Cooks get the base ingredients and turn the milder codeine into the powerful desomorphine… along with toxic byproducts.

The bite of the krokodile, and the reason for the name is the reaction that poorly made, impure desomorphine has with the immune system of users. The byproducts cause allergic reactions and damage to user’s veins. This then leads to skin dryness, decay and gangrene. The dry, scaly skin looks a bit like that of the drugs namesake.

According to one report, krokodil can take someone from first time user to dead in about three years. In a sense, this is the ,a href="">crack cocaine of the opioid class. The DEA is monitoring it, but reports that, for now the drug has only made an impact in Eastern Europe.

One fear is that our latest crackdown on the higher potency prescription opioids (oxycodone, hydrocodone) will shift interest toward manufacturing by drug dealers. Unlike many prescription pain killers, krokodil can be produced in an amateur lab from codeine, which is easier to get. It could also be smuggled in from overseas, offering a cheaper competitor to heroin.

It is very possible that, like cocaine converted to crack, the starting material could be illegally purchased and then converted to this high potency killer.


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