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Is the flesh-eating street drug krokodil in Canada?

What is krokodil? Should you be worried?
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Mark Moyes, November 28, 2013 11:46:09 AM

Dear Reader,

So you’ve seen the headlines. According to news reports, a Russian monster drug called Krokodil has hit our shores, and is literally eating the flesh off its users.

The descriptions are beyond disturbing. It’s been called “the world’s most horrifying drug” (Time), that “turns people into zombie-like creatures” (CNN). A cheap heroin substitute that’s made by mixing codeine with anything from paint thinner to gasoline, it can cause severe tissue damage, turning users’ skin rough and scaly–hence the name. “You literally start rotting from the inside-out,” Dr. Abhin Singla told the Sun-Times–a condition which “usually… leads to amputation and even death” (Global News).

Related: Why are drugs bad?

But as bad as the drug sounds, it looks worse. Be warned: The photos of its effects on the body are some of the most disgusting we’ve seen on the internet–and the internet is one deep pool of sick. You might not want to view them at work, or if there are children around. You might not want to look at them at all.

Why would anyone ingest such a thing?

Krokodil–technically, desomorphine–first became popular in Russia during a heroin shortage. Ninety percent of Russia’s 2.5 million drug addicts use heroin, according to Reuters–in fact, they consume one fifth of the world’s supply. Addicts, scrambling for a cheaper alternative, turned to the inexpensive opiate because it can be made at home, from codeine. At the time, codeine was available in various over-the-counter medications in Russia. (The sale of those medications without a prescription has since been banned.)

But for years, it was a problem contained almost exclusively to one country.

Recently, though, reports of addicts showing its symptoms began surfacing on our side of the Atlantic. “Krokodil… shows up in Niagara”, read a Toronto Star headline. Time’s headline had the drug attacking Chicago suburbs. After a “newly reported case of krokodil in Ohio”, the Huffington Post quoted a sherrif asking users to get their heroin from a trusted source. Mid-month, two doctors published their report of users with krokodil-like symptoms, “closing the window on speculation over the arrival of the drug” (Time again). The list goes on.

Related: Dog helps Vancouver man beat crack addiction

In the past week, however, there’s been a change of tune. Police in the Niagara region told Global News that there’s “no medical proof” that krokodil was in the area. “There’s been some wounds people say looks like the effects of Krokodil, but it also could be from different infections, dirty needles, or a bad batch,” police added. The CBC debunked reports that it had surfaced in Hamilton. The International Business Times UK called the drug “an urban legend” in the UK, US and Canada. The U.S.’s Drug Enforcement Agency agreed: “To date, none of our forensic laboratories has analysed an exhibit found to contain desomorphine. A sample sent to our Chicago forensic laboratory that was suspected to be krokodil was actually heroin.”

As mentioned, krokodil became popular in Russia because heroin was scarce, and because it could be made inexpensively from over-the-counter medication. Neither of those things are true in North America, making it less likely to gain traction here.

There’s no question that the story caught fire. Maybe it’s no surprise, with imagery as disturbing as this. Besides, there’s nothing quite so terrifying as something deeply addictive that can rot your flesh. Still, the reporting sometimes went a little overboard. (Really, CNN? Does the drug actually turn people into zombie-like “creatures”?)

Still, that isn’t to say that we shouldn’t be concerned about the possibility of the drug showing up in our backyard, so to speak. “There’s no indication that this drug will not come here. We’re keeping an eye out for it. I just think that the conditions aren’t really ripe for a drug such as this making its way to Canada,” Matthew Young, a senior research and policy analyst at the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse in Ottawa, told the CBC.

Let’s hope he’s right.

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