With a case involving the drug krokodil suspected in Athens County, law enforcement officers are doing what they can to keep the drug off the streets and warn others about the dangers.
The drug, which is classified as a manipulated version of heroin, was found in the Chauncey/The Plains area after a local heroin dealer told detectives from the sheriff’s Narcotics Enforcement Team that she had a bad reaction to the drug, according to the Athens County Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff Patrick Kelly reported that the drug, purchased in Columbus, was injected by a person thinking it was pure heroin.
“Heroin alone is bad enough, but this is not heroin,” Kelly told The Messenger. “This is more along the lines of methamphetamine, in my opinion.”
Krokodil, like meth, is a combination of medication and household chemicals, like paint thinner, gasoline, kerosene, or lithium from batteries.
“Meth eats away at the skin tissue, but krokodil eats from the inside out,” Kelly said.
The drug is said to be getting more popular because users are getting low-quality forms of the original drugs.
“They (users) are receiving heroin that’s not very potent, and a lot of the meth out there isn’t very good,” Kelly said, as told to him by Narcotics Enforcement Team detectives.
The drug name is Russian for “crocodile,” because of the scaly effect it causes on the skin. The drug reportedly originated in Russia.
Along with injection, the drug can be smoked or snorted.
The person who reported having used it in Athens County had a “festering, pungent sore” develop within days of injecting it, according to the sheriff’s office information. The skin then turned a “scaly, reptilian green” around the injection site, Kelly said.
The drug is new to the U.S., but has been spreading, according to media reports from around the nation. Officials from the Athens City-County Health Department said they have very little information because of the newness of the drug in the area.
“The only information I have on it is what I’ve read in the media and showed to my 15-year-old,” said health department administrator Chuck Hammer.
The drug is getting more attention because of what it does to the people who use it, according to Kelly.
“It stands out because of the flesh-eating side of it,” Kelly said. “If you took away the side effects, we would not be talking about it any differently than drugs like heroin.”
But because of the side effects, the sheriff’s office and the Narcotics Enforcement Team are trying a new tactic to get it off the streets. Anyone who thinks they have the drug can contact the NET and have it taken away with the guarantee that they will not face charges, Kelly said.
“Make sure to understand, though, that if we bust them or catch them transporting it, it’s not going to be a situation where they can say ‘I was just going to hand it over to you,’” Kelly said. “If you have some, call the NET and they will come and take care of it.”
Only one case has been reported to the office officially, but Kelly said at least one paramedic and at least one nurse have reported to the office what they suspected to be the symptoms of krokodil in a patient.
Though no arrests for the drug have been made in Athens County, there are laws that can be applied to the drug.
Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn said other drugs that were modifications of the major drugs — such as the ecstasy-like Molly and synthetic marijuana — have been prosecuted. “Counterfeit” drugs fall under some of the same laws as other drug offenses.
“If it’s scheduled by the (Food and Drug Administration) or a manipulated drug, it’s covered,” Blackburn said. “There are catch-all statutes and trafficking in heroin or trafficking in other drugs are all under the same statutes.”
For the sheriff’s office, being able to catch and arrest those that have it is not the biggest concern; it is having the drug on the streets at all. The office is working with the Columbus Police Department and has been contacted by the Office of Homeland Security.
“If a person knows they have this, and they know the effects, they aren’t going to want it,” Kelly said. “My fear is they’ll try to sell it to get real heroin.”
The possible evolution of the drug is also on the minds of the deputies who have to deal with drugs on the streets. While krokodil is a modification of heroin, there very well could be modifications of it as well.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if Adderall got added in or hydrocodone or any of those kinds of drugs,” Kelly said.