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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

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Reports of Cases of Flesh-Eating Drug Questioned

DEA says none of the drug samples tested so far has been confirmed as home-cooked krokodil

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Brenda Goodman

HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Oct. 29 (HealthDay News) -- Has the new "flesh-eating" drug of abuse known as krokodil reached the United States?

The drug is dubbed krokodil, the Russian word for crocodile, because it originated in that country and can cause horrific skin lesions resembling reptilian skin. Recent media reports have suggested that the home-cooked drug, which carries the scientific name desomorphine, has now reached addicts in the United States.

But drug enforcement agents say they aren't sure, and they continue to collect and test drug samples from areas where doctors have seen patients with suspicious skin lesions.

So far, a sample sent from Chicago, where doctors report that they've treated five patients who may have used the drug, including two sisters who have been widely photographed and interviewed about their experience, proved to be heroin.

"We're checking this out. We're very, very concerned about it. We would hate to see something like this catch on here," said Barbara Carreno, a press officer at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Krokodil has been a scourge in Russia for the last decade, where it's cooked at home as an alternative to heroin.

Carreno said the drug flourished in rural areas in Russia, where addicts didn't have access to purer narcotics. However, heroin is relatively easily accessible and cheap in the United States, so there would seem to be less of an incentive to mix up the more caustic concoction here, she said.

Krokodil is made by combining codeine pills with common ingredients such as gasoline, red phosphorus from match tips, alcohol, and iodine. Experts say the result is a highly addictive drug that's also highly corrosive to the body.

A high from a drug like morphine lasts four to six hours. But the high from krokodil lasts only about 90 minutes, added Stephen Dewey, director of the Laboratory for Behavioral and Molecular Neuroimaging at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, N.Y. Dewey studies how addictive drugs affect the brain. Typically, he said, "the shorter the high, the more addictive the drug."

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