“Crocodile” – The New Designer Drug of Abuse in the East
A new designer drug called “crocodile” or “Russian heroin”, used by approximately 100-250 thousand people in Russia, is spreading and arousing concern in Europe. Unfortunately there is a significant lack of current scientific papers which document the problem so raising awareness of the dangers of the drug for clinical toxicologists and forensic toxicologists is becoming increasingly important. An article published recently in the journal Clinical Toxicology gives a brief overview of the drug, its effects and dangerous outcomes.
The drug contains mainly desomorphine (Dihydrodesoxymorphine-D) and is produced by simple synthesis from codeine, iodine and red phosphorus in Russia and is currently available over the counter. Desomorphine made this way is highly impure and contaminated with toxins and corrosive by-products. The effects of the drug are similar to those of heroin, however, due to “crocodile” being administered intravenously or intramuscularly, the toxins within the drug have harmful effects on the tissue of the limb injected. The drug has an onset of 2-3 minutes and the effects last for 2 hours. First symptoms of addiction usually appear between 5-10 days and death can occur 2-3 years after intake of the first dose. But it has been mentioned that even a single dose may be lethal.
The skin at the site of injection eventually becomes grey and green, scabrous and can flake off and so resembles the skin of a crocodile, hence the name. This is a result of the impurities within the drug (residues of acids and alkalis, petroleum derivatives, industrial oils, organic solvents, red phosphorus, iodine and heavy metals) damaging blood vessels which usually ends up with limb ischemia followed by necrosis requiring surgical intervention and even limb amputation.
The drug is cheap, popular and used mainly by poor opiate drug addicts in Russia. According to records, approximately 30 thousand people die from the drug every year. The drug has been confirmed to exist in Germany, Czech Republic, Ukraine, France, Belgium, Sweden and Norway. One fatal poisoning of a twenty-three-year-old male in Warsaw, Poland in December 2011 is suspected, however, this cannot be confirmed as yet due to on-going investigations by forensic toxicologists.
As a result of usage of this “crocodile” drug, Russian authorities intent to restrict the sale of medicines containing codeine from June 2012. Analytical methods for desomorphine determination in biological samples have been developed for clinical and forensic toxicology; High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC), Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS), Thin Layer Chromatography (TLC) and urine immunoassays. Desomorphine is detected within these samples as an opiate.
“In all countries, the community and medical services have to be widely informed about consequences of taking this dangerous drug of abuse.” (Skowronek et al 2012:1)
Skowronek, R., Celiński, R., & Chowaniec, C. (2012). “Crocodile” – new dangerous designer drug of abuse from the East. Clinical Toxicology