2 more seek treatment after injecting flesh-eating ‘Crocodile’ drug
BY JOE BIESK Sun-Times Media October 11, 2013 2:02AM
Dr. Abhin Singla, director of addiction services at Presence St. Joseph Medical Center | Supplied photo
Updated: October 11, 2013 2:02AM
Two more people thought to have injected a flesh-eating heroin knockoff, known as Crocodile, have sought medical treatment in Joliet, according to a local doctor.
The latest cases were identified Thursday, said Dr. Abhin Singla, director of addiction services at Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center. The new cases, both men, bring to five the number of people who have sought treatment at the hospital this week after injecting the drug, also known as Krokodil.
All of the patients said they thought they were buying heroin and instead got the synthetic opiate that doctors say rots the skin from the inside out, Singla said. Based on what the patients said, the drug may have come from Chicago, said Singla, an internal medicine and addictions doctor.
“They’re thinking it’s heroin they’re buying and they’re actually getting this other drug,” Singla said in a telephone interview. “I think given time I could see someone with a very bad habit going to this because it’s cheaper, but I don’t think that’s what we’re seeing right now.”
Three of the patients — middle-class white women in their early to mid-20s — were treated this week for using the drug. Of those, one patient remains in intensive care at the hospital and two others have left against medical advice because they were afraid of prosecution, Singla said.
Two men, ages 32 and 22, sought treatment Thursday. Both had wounds on their upper arms, he said.
The female patient still in intensive care had the most severe injuries, with 70 to 80 percent of her body covered in open wounds which were cut away in surgery, in some cases down to the bone, hospital spokeswoman Jan Ciccarelli said. But doctors think they saved her limbs.
“She is very lucky to be alive,” Ciccarelli said. “She’s lost not only skin but fat tissue and some muscle, but they think they saved her life.”
While she will need further treatment, she’s likely to be released soon, Singla said.
The drug has moved swiftly into Will County.
Of his five patients, four said they got the drug in Chicago, and one said the drug was obtained in Will County, Singla said. He thinks there are only one or two dealers in the area selling this drug, which would explain the rapid cases popping up.
“If they can get to those people, we can put a stop to it, hopefully,” he said.
Metropolitan Area Narcotics Squad Director Mike Weber said agents would be interested in learning more about the Crocodile cases in Will County if permitted under federal medical privacy laws. Weber said his agents had not found any dealers selling Crocodile or heard of users other than those in the hospital.
The squad and several other law-enforcement agencies have begun sharing intelligence reports on the drug and its potentially deadly effects.
“It’s something we hadn’t heard of until the last couple of days,” Weber said, “but it’s definitely a concern.”
While the users in these cases injected the drug, it’s also available in capsule form. In addition to gangrene, the drug can cause neurological damage, brain damage, memory loss and could lead to dementia. It causes an infection around the point of injection, and the loss of blood supply eventually leads to the skin turning green and scaly, with an odor of rotting flesh, Singla said.
Krokodil started being manufactured about a decade ago in Russia, where heroin is harder to find, Singla said. Codeine tablets are mixed with gasoline, paint thinner, butane and other chemicals to create an injectable drug, he said.
“It’s about three times more potent than heroin, but the ‘high’ lasts only for a few hours,” Singla said. A hit of Crocodile costs about $8, while users pay $25 to $30 for heroin.
But the chemicals destroy the blood vessels and begin killing tissue near the injection site.
“You literally start rotting from the inside out,” Singla said.
Contributing: Brian Stanley