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A Russian Survivor of the Krokodil Epidemic Speaks Out on Its Dangers

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  1. Beenthere2Hippie
    View attachment 50581 Early this spring, when the snow began to melt in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg, the photographer Emanuele Satolli went knocking on apartment doors in the Uralmash district, a grimy neighborhood in the north of the city. He knew many of its hallways by heart. This was the place he’d gone in 2013 to photograph young men and women addicted to a synthetic drug known as krokodil.

    Three years later, he came back to find them again. But their old haunts and cookhouses were mostly deserted.

    Krokodil, a cheap substitute for heroin, was one of the deadliest designer drugs ever to sweep through Russia. Appearing on the black market in the early 2000s, it wound up ensnaring hundreds of thousands of addicts across the country, and it spread especially fast in poor, industrial areas like Uralmash.

    Its appeal was simple: addicts could easily learn to cook it in their kitchens using ingredients purchased at local pharmacies and hardware stores, among them hydrochloric acid, paint thinner and red phosphorous, which they scraped from the sides of match boxes. For a fraction of the price of heroin, the drug produced a similar high and was just as addictive.

    But the damage it caused was far more gruesome and often irreversible. The addict’s flesh at the injection site would often rot away, while the tissues of the brain and other vital organs were severely eroded. “So my expectation was to find that some of them had died,” Satolli says of his trip to find the addicts in Yekaterinburg this year. “But not so many.”

    Of the ten krokodil users Satolli had photographed in 2013, ranging in age from 30 to 43 at that time, three of them were dead by the time he came back this year. Extensive research and interviews with the friends and neighbors of four other addicts from Satolli’s list failed to turn up their whereabouts.

    “They disappeared,” says the photographer, and among those who knew them, they are usually presumed to be dead.

    Of the three former addicts Satolli found alive, one was in the tuberculosis ward in a local hospital; another had been bedridden for two years and unable to leave her apartment. Only one of the recovering addicts Satolli tracked down, a man in his early 30s named Pavel, had managed to kick the habit without sustaining crippling damage to his health.

    Photographing them presented a peculiar set of challenges. Three years ago, the hardest part of producing the series for TIME LightBox was to win enough trust to be invited into the kitchens where the addicts cooked krokodil and the shabby apartments they used to shoot up.

    “The challenge was not to make a cliché picture of an addict with a needle in the arm,” he says. “I tried to respect them, to show that they were more than just drug addicts, to show their whole lives.”

    But the production of his follow-up series on krokodil was in many ways more difficult. It forced Satolli to ask himself: “How can I represent the deaths, the empty places?”

    Sometimes the answer was clear. At the city’s crematorium, he was able to access the records of addicts who had died, as well as the names of the relatives who had identified their bodies. Some of those family members then took Satolli to see their graves, which were decorated with the photos of their young faces staring somberly out at the snow.

    But beyond that, the photographer was left to ring a lot of doorbells while looking for the remnants of the other addicts’ lives. “A lot of people were suspicious, especially old people who [grew up] in the Soviet Union,” he says. Many would stare at him through their peepholes or open a crack in the door before sending Satolli away.

    All of the cookhouses and drug dens he had visited in 2013 were either empty or occupied by other tenants – a sign of the fact that krokodil has, thankfully, fallen out of favor in Russia.

    Its decline came almost as suddenly as the epidemic that it caused. In the first three months of 2011, the country’s counter-narcotics agency said it had seized around 65 million doses of the drug, a 23-fold increase from 2009. The agency then lobbied for the government to impose a ban on the over-the-counter sale of codeine, the main ingredient in krokodil. By 2014, two years after the ban took effect, federal authorities announced that the drug had been practically eradicated from the streets.

    In the stairwells of Uralmash, Satolli still found it lurking earlier this year. He says he noticed the distinctive, acrid stink that the cooking process of krokodil produces coming from a kitchen, and the man living in that apartment admitted that he still makes the drug from time to time. But other synthetic drugs, such the ones known in the streets as bath salts, now dominate the market in Russia, while the most common sign of krokodil is the quiet devastation it has left behind.

    Emanuele Satolli is an Italian journalist and photographer based in Istanbul.Simon Shuster is a TIME correspondent based in Berlin.



    By Simon Shuster, with Emanuele Satolli - Time/June 9, 2016
    http://time.com/4358805/krokodil-deadliest-drug-legacy/
    Newshawk Crew

    Author Bio

    Beenthere2Hippie
    BT2H is a retired news editor and writer from the NYC area who, for health reasons, retired to a southern US state early, and where BT2H continues to write and to post drug-related news to DF.

Comments

  1. noddygirl
    Oh great so Krokodil is falling out of favor in Russia and now Bath Salts is coming in. Bath salts, meth and krokodil...the 3 worst drugs. Is life SO much harder in Russia that they are willing to do these awful, horrible, disgusting evil drugs?
  2. noddygirl
    Now that I reread my post...I hope that didn't come off sounding judgemental. I feel nothing but sadness and compassion for them ; ( I wonder...do they not have like Methadone and/or Suboxone maintenance in Russia?
  3. perro-salchicha614
    Yeah, if I had to make an "I wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole" list, those three would probably be at the top of it. From what I understand, a lot of the people who became addicted to krokodil were heroin addicts who couldn't afford their habit anymore.
  4. Beenthere2Hippie
    Actually, noddygirl, Perro is mostly correct on her take of the difficulties Russian opiate addicts face.

    There is little to no help for Russian citizens facing any form of opiate addiction. Wealthy Russians are the only group in that country that can freely get help; others who are poor (which makes up the bulk of those facing such an addiction) have no such shot. This 2015 news story from The Moscow Times should give any wondering about the state of Russian's treatment and acceptance of its opiate-addicted citizens a better understanding of just how tough a situation these people are facing, from a government still not willing to show compassion on the subject of addiction for any other than the very wealthy.
  5. perro-salchicha614
    Thanks for posting that link. I had no idea that methadone and buprenorphine weren't even available in Russia. That definitely explains why opiate addicts would become desperate enough to start using something like krokodil.
  6. vervain
    Yeah, that Moscow Times article mentions something I'd heard about - when Russia took over Crimea, the addicts on methadone maintenance therapy (legal in Ukraine) suddenly had the rug pulled out from under them when it was banned.

    Russia is one of the worst drug double-standard countries, in that chronic alcoholism is accepted and even celebrated, yet other substances are heavily heavily stigmatized and addiction recovery services (alcohol recovery too) are almost nonexistent, and where they do exist are decades behind most of the developed world. Fascinating place & culture, but collectively as a people they need to spend a few sessions on a therapist's couch, IMO generations of totalitarian Soviet rule really messed up the country's collective psyche on so many levels. They've advanced technologically to a modern point with the rest of us, but haven't really developed past an early-1900s outlook culturally & politically.

    Thanks for posting these articles. The slideshow in that first one is worth clicking thru - gave me the sense that these are just regular people, just caught in a destructive & hopeless cycle.

    I've always kinda felt krokodil is sort of a reminder of our own self damaging tendencies. We look at those addicts with their festering sores and think "I would never fucking do that to myself in a million years", yet then we proceed to imbibe our own DoCs and damage our liver/psyche/heart/relationships/bank accounts/etc in slightly less obvious fashion. It's all relative.
  7. noddygirl
    Yes true, and at age 25 I am finally learning a whole new respect for drugs. Im currently and miserably cold turkying off Suboxone (with a little help from Loperamide)...the power and strength of which I didn't truly know. I've decided to stay away from heavy opiates, or pretty much most opiates for that matter, and Im going to start playing around with less strong alternatives like herbs, ethnobotanicals, nootropics. Actually Im staying away from all hard drugs ftom now on.
    I feel very bad for Russian addicts ; ( Russians are hard on their people.
  8. noddygirl
    Everything in life needs to be respected. Drugs, humans, animals, nature, money.
    I dont understand why they cant just make like a liquid substance with just the codeine and only inject the codeine. Why do they add all those other horrific chemicals?? I dont understand that. Why add lighter fluid and shit to the codeine?
  9. vervain
    If I'm remembering correctly, IVing codeine is extremely bad for you too. The body has a severe allergic reaction to it - at best would make one unbearably itchy, at worst go into fatal anaphylaxis shock.
  10. noddygirl
    Like worse than injecting heroin? Injecting codeine cant be as bad as injecting codeine with lighter fluid, paint thinner, etc. Its all those really toxic chemicals that seem to totally destroy their bodies.
  11. noddygirl
    Oh I see. So codeine is not meant to be injected at all...but still injecting it alone would not be as bad as injecting it with lighter fluid and paint thinner and all that crap.
  12. perro-salchicha614
    I'm assuming they processed the codeine with those nasty chemicals to make the drug stronger, since the point of it was to mimic the effects of heroin, and codeine is obviously a weak opiate. But yeah, IV codeine is a bad idea. You're likely to have a pretty unpleasant histamine reaction. From what I understand, the 6-MAC (acetylated codeine) in black tar can also cause a dangerous histamine release when it's IVed.
  13. Beenthere2Hippie
    Here is an older but excellent DF post on the subject of codeine iv-ing (as well as other substances) and the dangers therein. Also, further discussion on iv-ing codeine should be directed to the codeine forum to keep this thread on topic.

    Your points, though, noddygirl and perro, are interesting and helpful to many. Thank you both for sharing. :)
  14. noddygirl
    I just have one less thing to say about this Krokodil...so I was looking at the slideshows and reading some of the stuff. These people are obvious addicts...and it says that the Krokodil high only lasts for about 40 minutes. So they are constantly injecting every hour or so? Geesh! ; (
  15. Beenthere2Hippie
    I'm thankful for the points you raised, noddygirl, and, yes, it is terrible. If you want to read more on krokodil (an on and off news page favorite lol) we have a whole bunch more krokodil threads here. Personally, I've always related to why and how people use heroin, but cannot for the life of me understand how you try a substance that--you can see!--rips users' bodies, lives and minds apart, yet you make the step forward and put gasoline, unidentified pills and iodine into your own vein. That's beyond sadly desperate. So, so sad.
    .
    So please feel free to talk about the icky substance! :)
  16. malsat
    They make the codeine into desomorphine, akin to turning epheprine into meth.
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