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Krokodil: The Flesh-Eating Zombie Drug

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

January 23, 2019

Krokodil is a homemade Russian drug that is most commonly used as a substitute for heroin. This drug is comprised of many substances including household chemicals and codeine. Taking this drug is very dangerous as it rots the body both inside and out.

Ever since the television series The Walking Dead hit our screens, there has been a global fascination with the undead. People often talk hypothetically about what they would do if there was a zombie apocalypse, where the world is overrun with millions of flesh-eating zombies. But although such a scenario seems as though it might be more at home in a fantasy novel, it might not be as far-fetched of an idea as you think. Only, in reality, there are no Hollywood action heroes fighting off the zombies with a gun, in fact, there are no zombies at all, just a drug that has the same effect.

What Is Krokodil?

That drug is krokodil. Pronounced “crocodile,” krokodil is a homemade Russian drug concoction that is most commonly used as a substitute for heroin. Its main ingredient is desomorphine, and it is often comprised of many household chemicals, combined with codeine. It is prevalent in Russia and throughout Eastern Europe. And when you take it, it will literally rot your body, both inside and out.

Despite desomorphine originating in the United States, recreational use of krokodil really took off among drug addicts in Russia. Its street name thus originates there—krokodil is the Russian word for crocodile. This is also where the link to zombie lore comes into play. Krokodil has also been dubbed by the media as the “zombie drug,” and when you look at the symptoms, it is easy to see why. No recreational drug has only positive side effects, but the negative side effects of krokodil are worse than most. Users can prepare themselves for peeling, discolored skin, rotting soft tissue, sores and ulcers, and even an altered personality and speech impediments.

And as with most recreational drugs, the end result is about as bad as it gets, and although you won’t be a zombie after you die, you can guarantee you’ll look like one in the weeks before.

And yet, for some reason this drug is still used by hundreds of thousands of people in Russia, Ukraine, and Poland. With each of these side effects adding its own level of gruesome, you have to wonder why it has taken hold quite as strong as it has. Well, the main benefit of drug users is its accessibility. Krokodil is most commonly created using medicine containing codeine, combined with household chemicals such as gasoline or paint thinner, and then injected into the veins.

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What Kind Of Person Uses Krokodil?

For most of us, that doesn’t sound like a very appealing process. For many people, the thought of even using a needle will make their skin crawl; fill that needle with a concoction of chemicals that may or may not include paint thinner, and you have the makings of a nightmare. But those who are using krokodil are not your average person, and here lies the danger. No one in their right mind would take such a drug, so then who is left? The answer lies with those who are already addicted to hard drugs.

Unless you have experienced it firsthand, it is incredibly difficult to understand what goes on in the mind of an addict. But for a second, try to imagine that there is one thing that you would do anything for, one thing that supersedes all reason and logical thinking, one thing that you might even die for. That is what an addict feels for their vice, and it can lead to just about anything. That is how krokodil became the perfect drug for an addict. When heroin supplies have run dry, or money is hard to find, someone in need of a fix could easily put together their own makeshift heroin, and it comes in the form of krokodil.

In Russia, some medicines containing codeine are available over the counter. This means that Russian addicts can get easy access to a heroin-like high, without having to go through a dealer or a doctor. So you can see the reason why it is suddenly so appealing to someone who is already addicted to drugs. This availability also explains the prevalence of this particular drug in that country.

Is The Threat of Krokodil Real in The United States?

Towards the end of 2013, there was a spate of deaths in the United States that were reportedly the result of krokodil usage. Several major news outlets reported that there had been more than one recent death involving similar symptoms to users of krokodil, that “flesh-eating zombie drug.” However, some outlets viewed these stories with skepticism, with specialists claiming that the symptoms were not consistent with krokodil usage, and blamed news outlets for getting swept up in zombie-mania.

The fact remains that this drug bares a lot of similarities to heroin, and although codeine is not available over the counter in the States, krokodil is still the preferred DIY substitute for a heroin addict who needs a fix at any costs. The recent tales of an American krokodil outbreak may have been exaggerated, but that does not mean that it is not a real risk.

And even if the United States does not climb aboard the krokodil train, it is still a drug that is being abused across an entire continent, taking hundreds of thousands of victims. If there is nothing else to take from this, it is at least a perfect representation of just how dangerous the use of recreational drugs is, and how deep into trouble it can get you. No doubt the first time most of these people took heroin, they did not envisage a future that involved their skin turning green and scaly. And yet, here we are, in the middle of a zombie apocalypse that we didn’t even know was coming. Perhaps widespread awareness is not the worst thing that could happen, as it might just be the best way to stop it before it gets any worse.

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