Desomorphine or ‘krokodil’ is an opioid, which
gets its name from how a user’s skin becomes
greenish and scaly, just like that of a crocodile.
It’s reportedly as much as ten times stronger
than heroin and eight-to-ten times stronger than
morphine, but is cheaper and much more toxic.
Usually it is home-cooked.
First produced in the 1930s in the United States,
the desomorphine compound was much more
powerful than morphine, but its effects did not
last as long. Though it was briefly marketed under
its brand name Permonid, it was only in the early
2000s that the abuse of home-synthesised
desomorphine was reported in eastern and
Generally, desomorphine is home-made from a
Red phosphorous (from matchbox strike plates)
Sometimes over-the-counter eye drops
(tropicamide) are added to make the high last a
About a third of the cost of heroin.
Methods of use
Heroin users in Europe have been known to turn
to Krokodil – the ‘poor man’s heroin’, but
generally people don’t last long on it. It’s
estimated they will die within two years of the
addiction beginning. Users cook up their drugs in
their own kitchens to ensure that they can
remain high. Cooking up takes a half hour to an
hour and for addicts, may become a full-time job.
Their concoction is a fudge-coloured liquid, which
they then inject. Often their skin becomes
damaged and gangrenous – one only has to
Google a few images to see the destruction this
drug will cause.
Effects on the user
Users experience a high of a maximum an hour
and a half. The high is similar to the one
experienced with heroin.
Harmful side effects and health risks
Skin turns a yellowish-green and scaly before
gangrene sets in
Ulcers around the injection side
Ruptured blood vessels
Burning or swelling of the veins (phlebitis)
Flesh rots to the bone
Rotten teeth fall out
Blood poisoning and other infections
Blood-borne diseases from shared needles e.g.
hepatitis and HIV.
The high dosage of iodine can disrupt the glands
in the body from producing the hormones needed
for muscle control. Bone tissue is destroyed by
phosphorus. The nervous system is attacked by
heavy metals such as iron, zinc, lead and
antimony, which can lead to inflammation and
the liver and kidneys shutting down. The
circulation will be cut off and essentially the user
will rot to death. Most reports talk of lengthy,
agonising deaths, not overdose.
Withdrawal is extremely painful and reportedly
much worse than with heroin. While a heroine
withdrawal can last up to ten days, a krokodil
withdrawal lasts about a month and the patient
will need tranquilisers in order not to lose
consciousness from the pain. It is one of the
hardest addictions to treat and if the user
survives may be left with amputated limbs,
speech impediments, an empty gaze and loss of
Krokodil and the law
Krokodil is an illegal substance in South Africa, as
per the Drug and Drug Trafficking Act 140 of
1992. The manufacturing, dealing, use and/or
possession of krokodil are unlawful. A person
convicted of an offence under this Act could face
a serious fine, or even imprisonment.
Krokodil | Crocodile | Poor Man’s Heroin