Krokodil has effects similar to opiates, yet can be more dangerous and deadly. Learn about this drug, known as the zombie drug.

Krokodil (also called the “zombie drug”) is a street name for something called desomorphine. Krokodil drug abuse was relatively unheard of in the United States until fairly recently, but the drug has been problematic in Russia and other former-Soviet countries since 2002-2003.

Krokodil is considered a cheap replacement for heroin. Compared to heroin, krokodil is not only inexpensive but often more accessible, and the effects are powerful. This injectable drug can also rot someone’s skin from the inside out.

What Is Krokodil?

Desomorphine, which is the generic name for krokodil, is a codeine derivative.

Much like methamphetamine, krokodil is often made with other substances, making it especially dangerous and harmful. Some of the most toxic ingredients found in illicitly manufactured krokodil can include battery acid, paint thinner and gasoline. These substances are used to create reactions to synthesize the drug, and they aren’t usually removed before someone buys and injects the drug.

What Does Krokodil Look Like?

Many people wonder, “What does krokodil look like?” Krokodil can look like a clear or colored liquid. Krokodil can also look like heroin in many cases. However, because of the different substances in krokodil, the color may vary from batch to batch. Frequently, krokodil is a yellow liquid with an acidic odor.

How Is Krokodil Used?

Because krokodil is a liquid, the primary method of use is an intravenous injection. Krokodil can be injected into a vein in the same way that heroin can be injected. It may be possible to eat, smoke or snort krokodil, but most research suggests that krokodil is mainly injected intravenously.

Street Names for Krokodil

Along with krokodil, other krokodil street names include:

  • Zombie drug
  • Crocodile
  • Russian magic
  • Poor man’s heroin

Where Is Krokodil Found?

This synthetic opioid derivative was first synthesized in the U.S. in the 1930s. Desomorphine is an estimated 10 times more potent than morphine. There is currently no accepted medical use for desomorphine in the U.S., although it’s used medically in Switzerland where it’s known under the trade name Permonid.

While desomorphine was initially synthesized decades ago, the abuse of krokodil didn’t start to appear internationally until around 2002. By 2010, the abuse of krokodil had become somewhat widespread in Russia.

Illicit manufacturing of the drug became increasingly common, particularly when Russia started cracking down on the use of heroin. Homemade versions of krokodil often include codeine and iodine from over-the-counter medications.

The New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services reports that around one million people in Russia use krokodil. Reported use of krokodil may occur in countries including Ukraine, Georgia, Germany and Norway.

In the U.S., krokodil is much less common because codeine (required to synthesize krokodil) is a controlled substance. Even though low-dose codeine medications are available at most pharmacies, there are still regulations and restrictions surrounding codeine use.

How Is Krokodil Made?

While desomorphine is an opioid with effects similar to heroin, it’s not even the most dangerous component of krokodil. Krokodil production is highly dangerous because of the highly toxic ingredients used.

Using very little equipment and codeine, krokodil can be made in less than an hour. The codeine is extracted from medications and then combined with a solvent. A base is added, and then acid.

It is ill-advised for anyone to learn how to make krokodil. Krokodil ingredients can include harmful, and potentially explosive, substances like:

  • Codeine
  • Gasoline
  • Hydrochloric acid
  • Iodine

Depending on how it’s made, these toxic ingredients aren’t typically removed from the desomorphine before it’s sold and consumed.

Effects of Krokodil

Krokodil effects are similar to heroin and other opioids. Krokodil drug effects tend to occur within two to three minutes after administration. The effects are estimated to be 10 times stronger than morphine and in some cases as much as 15 times more powerful. People may feel a short-lived high like that of heroin. Krokodil drug effects can include not only the euphoric high but also respiratory depression and drowsiness.

Other krokodil side effects which can occur from the toxic ingredients used to manufacture the substance can include:

  • Vein damage
  • Infections of the soft tissue
  • Necrosis and gangrene
  • Ulcerations at injection sites and remote areas of the body
  • Blood vessel damage
  • Pneumonia
  • Blood poisoning
  • Meningitis
  • Tooth decay or loss
  • Rotting gums
  • Transmission of blood-borne viruses
  • Bone infections
  • Memory loss
  • Damage to the liver and kidneys

Krokodil is nicknamed the “zombie drug” because of its flesh-eating effects at injection sites and elsewhere throughout the body. Krokodil effects can lead to the need for skin grafts, surgeries and limb amputations.

When krokodil is injected, it damages the vein and can lead to infections. The infections can spread throughout the body causing organ damage. Living tissue can also die. Media reports have shown krokodil effects often in graphic details. People may have dead patches of skin on their body. The skin can become black, green or grey and can flake off creating a reptile-like appearance.

Is Krokodil Addictive?

Krokodil is a schedule I controlled substance in the U.S., indicating that it’s highly addictive with no approved medical uses. People may wonder, “Why is krokodil addictive?” As with other opioids, krokodil activates receptor sites in the brain. This activation triggers reward responses that can contribute to addiction.

The potency of krokodil and its short-lived high also contribute to its highly addictive nature.

People who are dependent on krokodil may also quickly develop a physical dependence on the drug, and they may experience withdrawal symptoms if they try to stop using it.

The risks of krokodil addiction and dependence only add to the potentially life-threatening physical risks to the skin, bones and organs.

Treatment for Krokodil Abuse

While the use of krokodil isn’t yet widespread in the U.S., there are concerns that it may become more pervasive. This is especially true as the opioid epidemic continues to affect millions of Americans, and there are increasingly strict laws and regulations attempting to crack down on opioid use. There is a growing concern that Americans may turn to cheap, illegal substances like krokodil, as was the case in Russia.

For someone who struggles with krokodil use, krokodil drug treatment is available. Krokodil treatment focuses on the opioid component of the drug, but would also likely need to be specialized due to the physical effects of the drug. To learn more about krokodil treatment, contact us at The Recovery Village.

Camille Renzoni
Editor – Camille Renzoni
Cami Renzoni is a creative writer and editor for The Recovery Village. As an advocate for behavioral health, Cami is certified in mental health first aid and encourages people who face substance use disorders to ask for the help they deserve. Read more
Kevin Wandler
Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Kevin Wandler, MD
Kevin Wandler holds multiple positions at Advanced Recovery Systems. In addition to being the founding and chief medical director at Advanced Recovery Systems, he is also the medical director at The Recovery Village Ridgefield and at The Recovery Village Palmer Lake. Read more

Anderson, L. PharmD. “Krokodil Drug Facts.”, August 21, 2018. Accessed January 8, 2019.

Drug Enforcement Administration Office of Diversion Control. “Desomorphine.” October 2013. Accessed January 8, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.