This issue goes straight to the heart of why we are protesting this world AIDS day.
As methadone or other opiate substitution therapies look further away than ever for Russians, people are having to make their own concoctions; but by looking in desperation for something opiate based and cheap, Russian drug users have uncovered what is perhaps the most distressing and concerning issue to arise in the drugs field for a long time. As someone who has lived and worked within the drug field for 30 years, I personally have never seen a drug -or the situation that surrounds its use - that is as brutal as this; home made Desomorphine, or Krokodil.
Although invented in 1932 in Switzerland desomorphine was apparently invented in the USA in 1923 as a pharmaceutical preparation and was used in Switzerland under the trade name Permonid (strong opiate, fast onset, short duration). However, it doesn’t appear to have taken off as a drug due to its high addiction potential and short duration but it has appeared on the blackmarket, popping up in Siberia in 2002 and rapidly spreading across Russia. Over 7000 people were believed to have died from it only last year, a sharp rise from only a few hundred the years before.
Krokodil, named for the way it makes the skin scale, turn green and die, seems more to pertain to the extremely hazardous way it is made, using ingredients as mentioned in the article below. Extracted from codeine tablets which are bought for around £2 a pack, chemicals such as iodine and other extremely harsh solvents and the red phosperous scraped from match boxes, all get injected . Quickly they conspire to damage the nervous sytem, and rot the bone and skin from the inside, first targetting the softer thinner bones and tissue such as thejaw and fingers and toes. I will be putting a selection of Krokodil articles on this post, and information on what Russia is doing on the issue. So far Russian officials have only sought to ban pain killers from over the counter sales, (to be available only on prescription), however this will only serve to blur the issue. The black market is alive and well in Russia, and pills and pharmaceutical drugs are rapidly emerging through various ‘other’ channels such as the internet. Russia needs real solutions, that deal with the issue itself, such as peoples dependence on opiates. Maintenence drugs like methadone would go a long way to helping prevent the desperation people feel when in the grip of a drug dependence.
Additionally, reports have Krokodil recently spreadng to Germany. Unless someone makes Russian officials wake up and implement harm reduction such as OST (methadone and buprenorphine), Needle exchange, and legalises effective drugs advice and information etc -we are going to see this death and destruction of lives continue to spread further than Russia.People who use or inject drugs have a right to access health services just like anyone else and be treated humanely and equally. The multiple concerns facing this marginalised and ultimately vulnerable population is creating a human catastrophe. We cannot continue to ignore this situation or these people, drug users are brothers, sisters, mums and dads -they are you, they are us.
For a link to an Independent article on Krokodil, click here. But please have a look at the videos below, I warn you they are extremely graphic and upsetting. And please, if you are moved to act, join us on Dec 1st at cities around the world, (see protest page above) or comment below to get in touch.