Krokodil? Call It Reefer Madness 2: Electric Bugaloo

A couple weeks ago my Facebook news feed, like yours I imagine, exploded with dire warnings complete with horrifying pictures about the dangerous epidemic of krokodil, a cheap version of heroin that was supposedly sweeping the nation. My response was one big eye roll. Here we go again, I thought. And the Chicago Tribune reports what I assumed was the case:

Some experts in law enforcement and public health say it’s unlikely the drug will be widely used beyond the remote areas of Russia and eastern Europe where it became popular a decade ago.

The Tribune contacted health officials in nine states where reports of krokodil have surfaced in the media, but no agency, yet, has found conclusive proof that the drug is in use. The number of unverified cases recorded by poison control centers in states where krokodil has been reported in the media is barely into double digits.

Health authorities and hospital officials in Oklahoma and Utah said cases of krokodil use there remain unconfirmed or were debunked. In 2012, the American Association of Poison Control Centers noted two reports of krokodil use, neither of which have been confirmed.

This should surprise no one who has been paying attention. It’s Reefer Madness all over again, a grave threat to public health that simply isn’t a big deal. Like the famous crack baby epidemic that wasn’t. Or those “bath salts” that were making people become cannibals last year. Yes, krokodil is dangerous. No one should use it. But it’s an isolated problem if it’s a problem at all, hardly worth the assignment of 200 DEA agents to go after it. And certainly not worth another breathless PR campaign. We should have learned by now that when the government gets hysterical over the latest super scary drug epidemic, it’s usually empty propaganda.

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  • It’s a coverup! Just like the Zombie Survival Guide says, a zombie outbreak will be vaguely reported as some medical epidemic or similar sort of thing, but no one pays attention… until it’s too late.

    krokodil + marijuana = people with rotting flesh who have the munchies.

  • Konradius

    ‘krokodil’ is actually the dutch spelling of crocodile. Any dutch connection or is the word spelled similarly in other languages?

  • cottonnero

    Konradius, I’m guessing it’s the transliteration of the Russian spelling.

  • Artor

    Since real heroin is readily available in the US, I can’t imagine why anyone would switch to something that literally rots the flesh from your bones. Like Ed, I saw the reports of it spreading here and thought, “Seriously? WTF?!?” I wonder if the reports are just fear-mongering, or if some users contracted a nasty skin disease that confused a medical worker.

    Btw, for those of you who are unfamiliar with krokodil, DON’T look up any pics of it’s victims, unless you have a really strong stomach, or can convince yourself that you’re looking at some amazing zombie makeup.

  • Trebuchet

    I’m guessing “krokodil” is from the Russian, since that seems to be where it is mainly used.

    It’s currently Number One on Snopes Hot 25.

  • matty1

    This is the first time I’ve heard of this but on a brief look it seems to be mainly used in Russia ad Ukraine due to a lack of available heroin. To me this points to a need for better medical treatment of heroin addicts, maybe even including recognising that sometimes letting them get it legally from their doctor is the least worst option.

  • …hardly worth the assignment of 200 DEA agents to go after it.

    That opinion assumes those DEA agents had something better to do at the time.

  • lorn

    … “when the government gets hysterical over the latest super scary drug epidemic, it’s usually empty propaganda”.

    Sure … whatever you say … I have yet to hear from any government representatives about this. There have been web-zines and a few bloggers, and a whole lot of other private media … but no hysteria from the government that I have seen. A local police chief was asked about it and he said that he had not heard of any cases in this area. It was the perfect time to plant a little preemptive outrage and some good old foaming at the mouth scaremongering but … nada. Just a simple statement of fact.

    Where is this government hysteria you talk about?

  • Thumper; Immorally Inferior Sergeant Major in the Grand Gynarchy Mangina Corps (GGMC)

    “We should have learned by now that when the government gets hysterical over the latest super scary drug epidemic, it’s usually empty propaganda.”

    Hell, by now we should have learned to be suspicious of any information on drugs which comes direct from the Government. Here in the UK, back in 2009, Professor David Nutt was fired from his position as Head of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (basically, chief adviser to the government on matters pertaining to drugs) after writing a paper which quite rightly stated that ectasy is less dangerous than alcohol, and criticising the quality of the data used to shore up the anti-drug hysteria. Any honest government with no agenda would have accepted that scientific opinion from their chief advisor and re-evaluated the criminal status of ecstasy; but ours fired him for expressing an opinion grounded in facts and evidence.

  • If it’s “empty propaganda” then why is it so super scary? Hearing about this new drug makes me, for one, demand the State be more Tough on Crime, and I’m voting for the first person who’ll bring in Mandatory Minimum Sentence and a Three Strikes rule for these Urban Thugs to protect me from this thing that I’m scared of. Maybe a Two Strikes rule. The only thing these criminals understand is blind, overbearing, unconscionable punishment.

  • acroyear

    “it’s usually empty propaganda” – or it is using the excuse of that to get people to not pay attention to what those 200 agents are really up to…

  • iknklast

    The drug war is very important. It provides the US with numerous agents it can use for whatever purpose it pleases, which often includes spying on environmental groups, peace activists, and other people who dissent from the norm. No one is really held accountable for what these agents are actually doing, and so they can be easily used for all sorts of purposes, because the US has been so scared of drugs that they’ll overlook a lot of excess in the name of the drug war.

  • lldayo

    I personally disagree on “bath salts” not being a big deal since I’m related to someone who got addicted to them (who acquired them through another friend). This person would hear and see things that weren’t there and became so afraid of tornadoes appearing that they began living in their basement. I could see the right type of personality going crazy and becoming “zombie-like” and these were easily available on the internet when they first appeared. They may not have been a big epidemic but they were definitely dangerous and more commonly used than people think.

  • Steve Morrison

    I’ve heard of a Russian humor magazine named Krokodil, so I gather that is how the Russian word is transliterated into English.

  • My understanding is that it’s far cheaper to manufacture than real heroin, so may sneak in the supply via cheapskates. Three people in Chicago took some and suffered medical complications a few weeks ago. They had all thought they were taking heroin.

  • lofgren

    Cocaine was readily available in the US when crystal meth became an epidemic. You can manufacture infinite crystal meth in a bathroom, but cocaine requires complicated supply lines, smuggling, profit sharing, and money laundering. Krokodil has a similar opportunity to become popular simply by being cheaper. That said, like lorn I haven’t seen any propagandizing from the authorities, only horror stories shared via individuals. If the krokodil enters most people’s consciousness as a flesh rotting poison rather than a cheap high, it will do a lot to cut off any chance of it becoming popular here. It’s not like sharing a Facebook post costs us anything.

  • lofgren

    Also what makes Reefer Madness funny isn’t that it portrays marijuana use as more widespread than it really is. (In fact even back then it was probably more common, at least in rural and urban areas, than the movie implies.) It’s funny because its portrayal of the effects of marijuana are so exaggerated. From what I have seen, nobody is disputing that krokodil really does cause your flesh to turn necrotic, while marijuana does not make a person violently insane. So it’s not really like Reefer Madness at all.

  • As far as I’m aware the name Krokodil actually comes from the english word crocodile and it’s used because of the similarities between scaly appearance of users’ skin and the skin of a crocodile.

  • lorn wrote:

    Where is this government hysteria you talk about?

    The DEA has assigned 200 agents to krokodil, according to the link I gave above.

  • Thumper; Immorally Inferior Sergeant Major in the Grand Gynarchy Mangina Corps (GGMC)

    @Ace of Sevens #15

    My understanding is that it’s far cheaper to manufacture than real heroin…

    It’s basically the meth version of heroin; cooked up at home from codeine and some household chemicals, so yep. You can get medicine containing codeine over the counter in Russia, hence it’s massive availability over there. The problems with it are mostly due to purity, as with any home-cooked drug really; and apparently the necrotising side-effect comes from a common by-product which encourages the onset of gangrene at the injection site. It’s pretty nasty stuff all round.

  • Thumper; Immorally Inferior Sergeant Major in the Grand Gynarchy Mangina Corps (GGMC)


    No, it’s the Russian word for crocodile, but it is named that due to the green, scaly appearance of people’s skin if they experience complications. I’m not sure where the scaly appearance comes from, but the green colour is due to the gangrene I mentioned above.