What is the Krokodil Drug?

Opioids are substances that relieve pain and cause feelings of euphoria. While some opioids are derived from the poppy plant like Oxycodone or morphine, others like fentanyl or methadone are made synthetically.

While opioids can be extremely helpful in treating the symptoms of pain, they are also known to be habit-forming and highly addictive. According to the HHS, “In 2019, an estimated 10.1 million people aged 12 or older misused opioids in the past year.”[1]

Opioid abuse and addiction have become an epidemic in the United States. Some of the main players in the rising numbers of opioid overdose deaths are synthetic opioids. Studies have shown that in 2021 synthetic opioid overdoses surpassed 71,000, which is 23% more than the year prior.[2]

Unfortunately, some synthetic opioid drugs are more dangerous than others. Krokodil (desomorphine) is an illicit synthetic opioid drug that dominated news headlines several years ago due to its flesh-eating properties.

What is Krokodil (Desomorphine)?

Krokodil is the street name for a drug known as desomorphine. Desomorphine is a synthetic opioid that was created in the United States in the 1930s.[3] This drug did not hit the streets until the early 2000s, mainly affecting Russia and Ukraine.

This substance was created by synthesizing desomorphine from codeine and mixing it with additives such as:

  • Hydrochloric acid
  • Paint thinner
  • Gasoline
  • Iodine
  • Lighter fluid
  • Red phosphorus

Krokodil is known for its dangerous effects, with many reports of skin necrosis. This is why this desomorphine is known as a “flesh-eating” drug. According to the National Library of Medicine, “The name krokodil emerged due to the appearance of the skin lesions around the injection site, where it turns green and scaly like a crocodile skin due to desquamation.”[4]

Because of the dangerous side effects of this drug, it is not approved for any medical use in the United States and is classified as a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance.

What Does Krokodil Do to the Skin?

Krokodil is most commonly known for the effects it has on the skin. People who abuse this drug usually inject it intravenously. Oftentimes, injecting krokodil causes the skin around the injection site to become swollen and inflamed. Shortly after, the skin becomes green, black, and scaly, resembling the skin of an alligator or crocodile.

The effects that users notice after they inject krokodil are known as necrosis of the skin. The National Library of Medicine explains why krokodil may cause skin necrosis, “krokodil contains many ingredients that are known to be toxic to the skin. It has been suggested that the presence of gasoline and hydrochloric acid in the injected solution induces discolored scaling and ulceration.”[5]

Other Dangers of Desomorphine Abuse

Desomorphine can cause an array of health issues aside from the flesh-eating effects it is known for. This drug can cause significant damage to an individual’s muscle, cartilage, blood vessels, and bones. Additionally, this substance is known to cause fatal overdoses similar to other types of synthetic opioids.

Effects on Muscle and Cartilage

The ulcers caused by skin necrosis can eventually cause significant damage to an individual’s muscle and cartilage. Over time, the effects of krokodil can eat away at skin, muscle, and cartilage until bones are exposed.

Unfortunately, the pain-relieving properties of this drug are so potent that individuals may ignore the symptoms of muscle and cartilage damage until irreversible damage is done. Oftentimes, this causes people to develop infections like gangrene.

Blood Vessel Damage

Krokodil can lead to blood vessel damage, preventing the body from getting the blood it needs. If left untreated, the site of damage can develop gangrene and other dangerous infections like sepsis. Additionally, the damage to an individual’s blood vessels can cause a blood clot that leads to inflammation of a vein (thrombophlebitis).

Damage to the Bone

The bacteria that grows when an individual experiences skin necrosis after injecting desomorphine can eventually spread to the bone. This could lead to a bone infection known as osteomyelitis. Over time, this can cause bone death that requires amputation as the blood flow to the bone has been interrupted.

Additional Health Hazards

The ingredients that are used to create krokodil cause this drug to create an array of devastating health effects. Some of the adverse effects of desomorphine abuse include:

  • Sepsis and gangrene
  • Skin and soft tissue infections
  • The need for skin grafts and surgeries
  • Limb amputation
  • Pneumonia
  • Blood poisoning (bacteremia)
  • Meningitis
  • Rotting gums and loss of teeth
  • Bloodborne viruses from needle sharing
  • Speech and motor skills impairment
  • Damage to the liver and kidneys
  • Overdose
  • Respiratory depression
  • Death

Finding Help for Krokodil Abuse and Addiction

Individuals who are addicted to krokodil are at an increased risk of developing dangerous infections, suffering from skin necrosis, and experiencing fatal overdoses. Due to the risks of krokodil abuse, individuals who abuse this drug must attend a professional addiction treatment center.

If you or a loved one abuses synthetic opioids like desomorphine, contact Addiction Intervention. We can help you find a drug rehab program that fits your individual needs.


  1. https://www.hhs.gov/opioids/about-the-epidemic/opioid-crisis-statistics/index.html
  2. https://www.usnews.com/news/health-news/articles/2022-05-11/us-overdose-deaths-hit-record-107-000-last-year-cdc-says
  3. https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_chem_info/desomorphine.pdf
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25756471/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4864092/

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