At least five people in Chicago were hospitalized over the weekend after exhibiting symptoms of using “krokodil” — a cheap heroin knockoff popularized in Russia that contains opiates mixed with gasoline, paint thinner, iodine, lighter fluid, and other toxic fuels — including rotting flesh and exposed bones. There have now been cases of krokodil use reported in Arizona, Utah, Oklahoma, and Illinois, lending credence to public health officials’ fears that the new drug import could become an increasingly pressing threat in America.
The first known case of krokodil use in the U.S. was reported in Arizona toward the end of September. Officials with the Banner Poison Control Center told CBS5 Phoenix at the time, “Where there is smoke there is fire, and we’re afraid there are going to be more and more cases.”
The drug now seems to have spread to other parts of the country. Just this week, the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics launched an investigation into the death of 33-year-old Justin McGree, who friends say was a krokodil user who lost much of his skin while using the drug. “The doctors say it ate him from the inside out. It wasn’t until the next day that they told us that is was Krokodil meth,” said Chelle Fancher, a friend of McGree’s.
The five individuals who were hospitalized over the weekend reportedly thought they were purchasing heroin, but received krokodil instead. That’s particularly concerning to public health officials, since krokodil is much cheaper and easier to synthesize than actual heroin and could be an appealing, cost-effective option for dealers and users alike.
“I think it’s the tip of the iceberg; I think it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better,” said Dr. Abhin Singla, an addiction specialist and internist who helped treat the Illinois victims over the weekend, in an interview with Time. “I think if it stays on the market long enough, you’re going to have people who are desperate addicts that can’t support their heroin habit but can utilize this drug, not really caring about the consequences, and get the same high for a third of the price.”