Sunday, June 26, 2011

Russia's Krokodil Epidemic Continues

Ten months ago I wrote about about "Krokodil" in the former Soviet Union.  This week Simon Shuster of  Time magazine and Shaun Walker of the Independent offered excellent stories showing that krokodil abuse remains a large and growing problem among Russia's impoverished addicts.

The Russian government has taken an aggressive position in the War on Drugs.  Rehabilitation is largely left in the hands of private clinics and religious organizations: abuse of patients is commonplace and Human Rights Watch found that the treatment offered at state drug treatment clinics in Russia was so poor as to constitute a violation of the right to health.  Methadone maintenance therapy is illegal and needle exchange programs have been prosecuted for "aiding illegal drug use." Earlier efforts at poppy eradication helped limit the abuse of "hanka" (also known as "chernaya" and, in Poland, "kompot"), homemade heroin made from poppy straw. But those who could not afford the cheap Afghan heroin which has flooded Russia since the 1970s did not suddenly decide to just say "nyet."  Instead, they found a new and even more deadly way to attain opiate numbness.

Krokodil is produced by combining crushed codeine tablets with iodine, phosphorus, hydrochloric acid, gasoline, paint thinner, and various other cheap and readily available compounds according to various recipes which resemble the process by which psuedoephedrine is converted into bathtub crank.  The final product contains desomorphine, a substance that is eight times stronger than morphine but shorter-acting, along with a cocktail of other morphine analogues. But it also contains heavy metals, organic solvents, sediment from the crushed pills and other corrosive toxins.  And while even the most tweaked out meth cook will generally make at least rudimentary efforts to clean their speed before shooting it, krokodil users typically inject their final product straight. The end results of this are, as you might imagine, horrifying. (If you are at work or have a sensitive stomach, do NOT click this link).

According to Victor Ivanov, head of Russia's Federal Drug Control Service, seizures of krokodil have increased 23-fold since 2009: perhaps as many as 100,000 Russian addicts are using krokodil as a low-cost substitute for other opiates. As Zhenya, a recovering junkie, says "You can feel how disgusting it is when you're doing it," he recalls. "You're dreaming of heroin, of something that feels clean and not like poison. But you can't afford it, so you keep doing the krokodil. Until you die."