Earlier this month, there were widespread reports that krokodil, the flesh-eating synthetic opiate that has plagued addicts and users in rural areas of Russia and Eastern Europe in recent years, had spread across the U.S.
Individuals in Arizona and Illinois were reported as having been affected by the drug, showing up in hospitals with symptoms similar to those reported in Russia.
Federal officials have been investigating these reports since they began, concentrating in the areas surrounding Joilet, Ill., where a doctor reported treating three cases of symptoms associated with krokodil.
Jack Riley, the agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s office in Chicago, claimed that so far the agency’s search for krokodil has been unsuccessful.
“We have run quite a few buys in the city and suburbs,” Riley said to the Chicago Tribune. “What the lab tells us is it’s just heroin.”
Whether or not the victims treated in Joliet and other areas around the country for flesh-eating wounds had used krokodil is difficult to tell. Neither the DEA nor any other investigative agency has discovered clear evidence of the drug’s presence on American soil, leading some to believe that reports of its circulation were actually a false alarm.
Part of the trouble detecting the drug, however, is that it breaks down and leaves the body quickly. According to the Chicago Tribune, the drug responsible for producing a heroin-like high in krokodil is called desomorphine, and it leaves the body so quickly that it’s difficult to detect in blood and/or urine samples.
DEA officials believe that if krokodil exists in the U.S., dealers are selling the drug by claiming it’s heroin. Then, when individuals show up in the emergency room showing the symptoms typically associated with krokodil, they can claim they injected heroin and have no idea that they may have purchased a synthetic version of the drug.
There have also been instances in the past in which heroin users have developed sores simply from the drug being cut with an irritating substance or being transported in an area rife with bacteria, such as inside a cow.
“In California once, there were these outbreaks of sores,” said University of Texas researcher Jane Maxwell. “It was because the heroin was coming across the border stuck up the rear ends of cows.”
Whether or not the increasing reports of rotting flesh are connected with something as dangerous as krokodil or something that’s more easily containable is going to be difficult to determine, but evidence exists that there’s some sort of drug circulating that the DEA needs to ensure is safer.