The Krokodil Menace Now Seems Faker Than Ever (and It Already Seemed Very, Very Fake)

Crime
A blog about murder, theft, and other wickedness.
Dec. 9 2013 4:15 PM

The Krokodil Menace Now Seems Faker Than Ever (and It Already Seemed Very, Very Fake)

185622938
Alya, 17, undergoes treatment for addiction to drugs including heroin, krokodil, and others at City Without Drugs on Oct. 16, 2013, in Yekaterinburg, Russia.

Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

On Thursday, Time’s website ran a striking photo essay about the horrors of krokodil, the "flesh-eating” heroin substitute that is popular in Eastern Europe and, according to many in the media, is gaining ground in the United States. The Time piece, titled “The World’s Deadliest Drug: Inside a Krokodil Cookhouse,” brings readers to a drug den in Yekaterinburg, Russia, where addicts brewed and injected krokodil only to watch their bodies be ravaged by it. “There are now alarming stories that the monster could be at large in the U.S.,” writes Simon Shuster.

But as I noted last month, there’s no reason to think that’s true. And indeed, in his very next sentence, Shuster admits that “drug-enforcement officials say fears of an imminent krokodil epidemic are overblown.” In a good Columbus Dispatch piece on Sunday, Theodore Decker quoted a doctor who strongly refuted fears of a burgeoning epidemic:

“In the U.S., there is no krokodil,” said Dr. Henry Spiller, the director of the Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “We’ve been chasing this for a while. There is no verified sample in anybody’s laboratory. None. Zero.”
Advertisement

Despite all the hype, there has been only one credible report of krokodil abuse in the United States. In an article published this fall on the website of the American Journal of Medicine, some St. Louis physicians reported treating a patient for krokodil abuse in 2012. But a couple weeks ago, the paper was temporarily removed from the AJM’s website; a spokeswoman for the hospital where the krokodil patient was allegedly treated told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the article had been “posted prematurely before it was fully reviewed.” The paper’s withdrawal came as no surprise to the science bloggers who had already criticized its methodological flaws, its inaccurate terminology, and its “terrible grammar.”

Disregard the American Journal of Medicine article, then, and we’re left with zero verified cases of krokodil abuse in the United States—some drug epidemic this is. The Dispatch piece goes on to explain why it’s unlikely that krokodil will ever catch on here. Krokodil is used in Russia and Eastern Europe because real heroin is scarce in those places, and, to an addict, a flesh-rotting heroin substitute synthesized from codeine and paint thinner is better than no heroin at all. But in the United States, heroin is not hard to find, and drug users here have no reason to resort to such desperate measures. As the Dispatch suggests, the only way that krokodil might become a thing is if the media keeps hyping it, thus leading curious people to try and acquire this famous new drug. Your move, journalists.

Justin Peters is a writer for Slate. He is working on a book about Aaron Swartz, copyright, and the rise of “free culture.” Email him at justintrevett@fastmail.fm.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Irritating Confidante

John Dickerson on Ben Bradlee’s fascinating relationship with John F. Kennedy.

My Father Invented Social Networking at a Girls’ Reform School in the 1930s

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

The All The President’s Men Scene That Captured Ben Bradlee

Medical Examiner

Is It Better to Be a Hero Like Batman?

Or an altruist like Bruce Wayne?

Technology

Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

The World’s Human Rights Violators Are Signatories on the World’s Human Rights Treaties

How Punctual Are Germans?

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 11:40 AM The U.S. Has Spent $7 Billion Fighting the War on Drugs in Afghanistan. It Hasn’t Worked. 
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 1:12 PM George Tiller’s Murderer Threatens Another Abortion Provider, Claims Right of Free Speech
  Slate Plus
Working
Oct. 22 2014 6:00 AM Why It’s OK to Ask People What They Do David Plotz talks to two junior staffers about the lessons of Working.
  Arts
Behold
Oct. 21 2014 12:05 PM Same-Sex Couples at Home With Themselves in 1980s America
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 21 2014 4:14 PM Planet Money Uncovers One Surprising Reason the Internet Is Sexist
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.