Media-Induced Krokodil Hallucinations Sweep the Country

The krokodil craze, my
for the best drug scare of 2013, continues to sweep the
country. Just to be clear: The craze is not, so far as anyone has
been able to confirm, a pharmacological fashion among American drug
users; rather, it is occurring inside the minds of yellow
journalists and their enablers in the medical and law enforcement
communities. Or is it the other way around? Sometimes it is hard to
tell who is enabling whom as reckless claims by doctors and cops
are picked up by the press, which encourages new reckless claims,
which leads to more sensational coverage, and so on. The latest
example (I think) is a report in The Prowers Journal,
a Colorado newspaper, headlined “Local
Law Officials Warn of Krokodil, Corrosive Drug Sold as Heroin
As usual, it features worried cops describing krokodil’s horrifying
side effects:

“It destroys tissue when it’s injected into the body, and if you
mainline it into a vein the long-term effects will see your body
 eaten away from the inside out,” explained Detective Dave
Reid during a press conference for local media this past Tuesday,
January 7. Some of the ingredients include gasoline, iodine, red
phosphorous from match striker plates, codeine and several other
corrosive products….

The corrosive compounds begin to break down body tissue to the
point of open bleeding through needle penetration….Reid added
that studies from Russia indicate the long-term user’s body
develops gangrene, phlebitis or blood-clotting and green scaly
skin, hence it being called Krokodil. “Amputation for habitual
users can become common, whether they inject the drug into a vein
or tissue. Those who survive the drug develop speech problems,
erratic body movement or just appear dazed.”

Sounds bad, but what makes Reid and Police Chief Gary McCrea
(also quoted in the story) think krokodil, a homemade
concoction that originated in Russia as a heroin substitute, has
caught on in Lamar, a small town in southeastern
Colorado? The Prowers Journal says “the Lamar
Police Department has sources that indicate [krokodil] is now being
introduced to the area.” Not satisfied? There’s more:

[McCrea] said the first report the department received was from
a man in a local store who was bleeding profusely from a venous
injection and the police were told he was using Krokodil, but there
was no official confirmation. The Chief did say there have been
more recent reports of its use, but still, nothing on an official

“No official confirmation”? What does that mean? It means that
no drug user or drug sample has tested positive for desomorphine,
the narcotic that Russian junkies aim to produce by mixing codeine
with all those nasty chemicals. It seems there has been no such
chemical confirmation in Lamar, in Colorado, or anywhere else in
the United States. “I’m not aware of any forensic laboratory that
has come up with a desomorphine sample,” says Joseph Moses, a
spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). None of
the putative krokodil samples tested by the DEA have contained
desomorphine, and the agency has not seen a single positive result
from any state labs either. “A lot of people want to call it a
trend,” Moses says, “but we’re not seeing it.”

Maybe Moses should have a chat with his colleagues in Texas. The
day before yesterday, WOAI, a radio station in San Antonio, cited
“the Texas DEA” as the source for a story headlined “Scary
New Drug ‘Krokodil’ Seen for First Time in Texas
.” WOAI reports
that a “17 year old girl from Houston checked into a hospital in
the Mexican state of Jalisco, where she had gone to visit relatives
over the holidays. She was complaining of digestive problems, and
doctors notices the fresh skin lesions and diagnosed the drug

As Moses notes, skin lesions can be caused by unsanitary
injection of any drug, So why did the doctors in Mexico, the DEA
agents in Texas, and the editorial staff at WOAI settle on
krokodil? “Officials say the girl told them that she obtained and
ingested krokodil in Houston,” the station says. Unless this girl
is a chemist with a well-equipped lab, it seems safe to say she has
no idea what she actually bought in Houston; such uncertainty is a
familiar hazard of the black market. Nevertheless, “DEA agents are
now keeping an eye on Texas emergency rooms, to see if any more
cases pop up here.” You can be pretty sure more will, since drug
users, doctors, reporters, and cops have been primed by alarmist
reports from major news outlets such as
USA Today
, CNN,
to see krokodil even when it isn’t there.

Speaking of major news outlets, here is the Associated Press

 the same story:

Health authorities in western Mexico said Thursday
they have detected a probable case of flesh lesions due to the
drug Krokodil, often referred to as “the poor man’s

[The 17-year-old’s doctor] said a survey of rehab centers and
clinics in Jalisco had revealed there were no other local cases. He
said so far, Mexico has detected only two probable cases, the woman
in Puerto Vallarta and another person in the border state of Baja

Diagnosis is usually based on the tell-tale lesions, because the
body quickly metabolizes the drug’s psychoactive agent,

So if you encounter a patient with lesions like those often seen
in intravenous drug users and you don’t detect
desomorphine, you know you must be dealing with krokodil. The
capper is the headline that The Christian Science
 put on the story: “Krokodil Drug Case Confirmed
for US Patient in Mexico.” Confirmed, unconfirmed—whatever.

Reporters covering this pseudo-story (with some
honorable exceptions
) not only have been unfazed by the total
lack of toxicological evidence; they have not stopped to wonder why
there would be a market for krokodil in the United States. Russian
addicts turned to krokodil because heroin was scarce and codeine
was available over the counter. Neither of those things is true in
this country. “It’s unlikely that we would see that shift,” Moses
observes, “when other substances are available.”

As in the case of candy-flavored
, the DEA (in Washington, anyway) has responded to the
alleged krokodil menace by pointing out the lack of evidence to
support what Moses calls “a lot of hype.” It is a sad commentary on
the state of American journalism when the federal agency in charge
of waging the war on drugs sounds like the voice of calm reason in
comparison to the anti-drug hysterics at leading news

[Thanks to Medicinal
 for the the Prowers

from Hit & Run

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.