A Joliet doctor is treating three people who took "krokodil," a heroin substitute that's become known as the "flesh-eating" drug because it causes gangrene and abscesses so severe that muscles, tendons and bones can be exposed.
Dr. Abhin Singla, an internist and addiction specialist at Presence St. Joseph Medical Center in Joliet, said in a news release Tuesday that the patients have sought out treatment in the last 36 hours -- the first victims to be seen in Will County.
of late as last week, the first cases – a few people in Utah and Arizona – were
reported to have been using the heroin-like drug, which rots the skin from the
inside out,” said Singla, St. Joseph's director of addiction services and medical director for The Promises of Recovery, a treatment facility.
“It is a horrific way to get sick. The smell of rotten flesh permeates the room. Intensive treatment and skin grafts are required, but they often are not enough to save limbs or lives.”
The patients Singla is seeing have "significant maiming" in the arms and legs, the release said.
Krokodil -- also known as desomorphine -- originated in Russian in 2003 as a substitute for heroin, which is difficult to get there, the new release said. It's made of codeine tablets combined with gasoline, paint thinner, lighter fluid or similar substances. It sells for about 10th of the cost of heroin, the release said.
Singla said it can be taken orally but most prefer to inject it because it creates a greater high. Experts say the feeling is comparable to morphine, with properties similar to methamphetamines, the release said.
"After injection," the release said, "the other
chemicals began to work on the inside of the body, destroying tissues and blood
vessels with abandon, ultimately causing the (krokodil) name (because of the) green scaly appearance
to the skin.
"This dead skin can lead to life threatening infections, some requiring strong antibiotics and surgery, often amputation and also death. Russian doctors have reported death can occur 12 to 18 months after starting use of the drug."
Joliet Police Cmdr. Al Roechner, who oversees the department's patrol division, and Lt. Brian Dupuis, who oversees the investigations unit, said Tuesday they'd never heard of the drug and were not aware that anyone had been hospitalized for taking it.
However, with more than 30 deaths in Will County being attributed to heroin this year alone, it's not a huge surprise that people might seek out a cheaper substitute or take it accidentally because they believed it to be heroin, Dupuis said.
"(Heroin) has become an epidemic here," he said.
Singla said the same thing in the news release.
“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.