The flesh-eating crocodile is here, a local doctor said.
Three patients have been treated this week at Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center for using a synthetic opiate that doctors say rots the skin from the inside out.
“If you want to kill yourself, (using) this is the way to do it,” said Dr. Abhin Singla, director of addiction services.
Crocodile, which also is spelled Krokodil, started being manufactured about a decade ago in Russia, where heroin is harder to find, Singla said.
Codeine tablets are mixed with gasoline, paint thinner, butane and other chemicals to create an injectable drug, he said.
“It’s about three times more potent than heroin, but the ‘high’ lasts only for a few hours,” Singla said. And a hit of crocodile costs about $8, while users pay $25 to $30 for heroin.
But the chemicals destroy the blood vessels and begin killing tissue near the injection.
“You literally start rotting from the inside out,” Singla said.
The first warning sign users will see are redness and blackness around the needle mark. They’d probably be hurting too if they hadn’t just taken a painkiller.
Gangrene develops and gives the dead skin a scaly green appearance, which provided the name of the drug.
“This has been an epidemic in Russia. The average life expectancy of someone using crocodile is less than two years,” Singla said.
Singla said he spoke about his cases with Drug Enforcement Administration agents in Chicago Wednesday morning. Joliet Police narcotics officers and agents from the Metropolitan Area Narcotics Squad, however, said Wednesday they were unaware of crocodile.
“I’m not surprised,” Singla said. “Last week the first cases in this country were reported in Arizona and Utah and I’m startled how quickly it came east to our area.”
Singla felt the convergence of interstates in the area fast-tracked crocodile, just as it’s kept heroin supplied here.
“Will County’s already burgeoning heroin epidemic may have created a tolerance level to the point where users are now looking for cheaper and better highs,” he said.
Singla’s patients are three local women, all under 25-years old. Two of the women are acquainted, so it’s possible they all got the drug from the same place. None of them would say where they obtained it, Singla said.
Their arms and legs are significantly maimed from gangrene. Singla said one patient will likely face years of surgeries to recover her ability to walk.
“It’s a horrific way to get sick. The smell of rotten flesh permeates the room,” Singla said. “Intensive treatment and skin grafts are required, but they are often not enough to save limbs or lives.”