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Desomorphine (Krokodil)
Basics
by Erowid
DESCRIPTION #
Krokodil is a street name that refers to desomorphine, a semi-synthetic opioid commonly synthesized from codeine. Desomorphine's effects are similar to heroin or oxycodone and include euphoria, sedation, pain relief, and suppression of the body's natural drive to breathe. Codeine is converted into desomorphine to increase potency and make the resulting drug more euphoric.
Dose #
Krokodil is commonly used orally or injected as an impure liquid. The dose varies widely based on the purity of the substance and the tolerance of the user. In early human studies of pure desomorphine, the effects of 1 mg were approximately equivalent to the effects of 10 mg of morphine when the substances were injected under the skin.1
Price #
In 2011, anecdotal reports from Russia suggest that 10 tablets of over-the-counter codeine with acetaminophen could be purchased for 120 Russian Rubles or $3.71 USD. This quantity was said to produce enough desomorphine to substitute for 500 Rubles or $15.46 USD worth of heroin.2 Although there are reports of street desomorphine appearing in the United States, we do not have reliable price information.
Desomorphine is a Schedule I drug under the United States Code (USC) Title 21 Controlled Substance Act. Desomorphine is also controlled internationally under Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961.
Chemistry #
Desomorphine is an opioid analog with a chemical structure similar to morphine. The structural differences produce a more rapid onset and shorter duration of action than morphine. Desomorphine salts are most commonly injected and are highly soluble in water. The solubility of desomorphine freebase in water is 1425 mg/L at 25 degrees C.3 It is soluble in acetone and ethyl acetate and appears dark red when dissolved in alcohol solutions.4 The pKa1 of the amine is 9.69.5

In Moscow, analytical labs have found a number of different chemicals in street krokodil: Desomorphine (Morphinan-3-ol, 4,5-epoxy-17-methyl-, (5alpha)-); Tropicamide (N-Ethyl-3-hydroxy-2-phenyl-N-(4-pyridinylmethyl) propanamide); 6-desoxycodeine (Morphinan-3-ol, x,y-didehydro-4,5-epoxy-3-O-methyl-17-methyl-); 6-desoxymorphine (Morphinan-3-ol, x,y-didehydro-4,5-epoxy-17-methyl-); Metamizole/Analgin ([(1,5-Dimethyl-3-oxo-2-phenyl-2,3-dihydro-1H-pyrazol-4-yl)methylamino]methanesulfonic acid, sodium salt).12
Pharmacology #
There is incomplete data regarding the pharmacology of desomorphine. The reported effects of desomorphine and the structural similarity to morphine suggest that desomorphine is a potent mu opioid agonist.

In 1942, a study was conducted comparing the effects of 1 mg desomorphine to 10 mg morphine injected subcutaneously in 902 patients with cancer. Pain relief averaged 2 hours and 25 minutes in the 126 patients that received desomorphine and 3 hours and 7 minutes in the 776 patients that received morphine.1
Production & Synthesis #
Clandestine manufacture of desomorphine involves two steps: the extraction of codeine from pharmacuetical products, followed by the synthesis of desomorphine from the codeine. The extraction of codeine involves mixing the codeine source (which often contains acetaminophen and other substances) with organic solvents such as gasoline, adding a strong base such as lye and then adding an acidic solution such as hydrochloric acid to produce water soluble codeine salts that will reside in the aqueous layer. The codeine can be further extracted but many will proceed directly with the next step. The extracted codeine is mixed with iodine, hydrochloric acid, and red phosphorus to reduce the codeine to desocodeine. Subsequently the desocodeine is demethylated itto desomorphine in a one-pot synthesis that may take 45 minutes. There are some reports of attempts at neutralization at the end of the reaction using cigarette ash or sodium bicarbonate. Despite these efforts the solution is often quite acidic with a pH less than 3.2 Analysis of Russian samples shows that what is purported to be desomorphine is often a sloppy mixture of 4 synthetic analogues of desomorphine, codeine, and other chemicals resulting from poor synthesis procedures. The actual desomorphine content of krokodil samples ranged from traces to 75%.6
History #
Desomorphine was first patented in 1932 in the United States as a derivative of morphine. It gained international attention in 2010 when Russian news sources reported an outbreak of severe medical cases resulting from intravenous injection of impure street Krokodil. Reports of use in Russia date back to at least 2003. 8
Terminology / Slang #
The Substance:
Desomorphine, krokodil, crocodile.
The effects of desomorphine are similar to the other opiates. Positive effects often include euphoria, sedation, and analgesia (relief of pain). Common negative effects include constipation, nausea and vomiting, itching, urinary retention, decreased libido, and respiratory depression. Neutral reactions include constriction of the pupils (miosis), flushing, and a pins-and-needles feeling (parathesia). Serious medical complications can include respiratory failure, allergic reactions, seizures, and physical and psychological dependency, which can all lead to death. When impure or acidic desomorphine is injected, it can cause pain, skin discoloration, and additional serious medical problems.
Onset #
When injected intravenously, the effects can be felt within seconds to minutes. When taken orally, effects take between 15 and 90 minutes to begin, based on experience and stomach contents.
Duration #
Like other opiates, when injected intravenously, a rapid euphoria is produced followed by a longer period of sedation lasting approximately 2-3 hours.
Visual Effects #
Desomorphine is not known to cause any visual effects outside of those associated with simple sedation and drowsiness.
PROBLEMS #
Contraindications #
  • Do not operate heavy machinery. Do Not Drive.
  • Opioids should not be mixed with other opioids, any sedative, or with any central nervous system depressant because those combinations can increase the risk of death.
Addiction Potential #
Desomorphine has been shown to have a greater addictive potential than morphine.7 The rapid onset of action produces an intense "rush" that is both pleasurable and drives many users to compulsively use and abuse the substance in a manner similar to heroin.

Repeated administration of any opiate can cause physical dependency, which requires increasing doses to produce the desired effect and a withdrawal syndrome if the substance is no longer taken.
Long Term Health Problems #
Desomorphine, when produced in clandestine home labs is notoriously impure and contaminated with toxic substances. Injection can cause immediate damage and destruction of skin, blood vessels, muscles and bone. Iodine used in the synthesis process can cause thyroid and muscle damage. Phosphorus, also a contaminant, is known to damage cartilage. The damaged tissue is susceptible to infection, which may lead to abscesses, inflammation and destruction of the veins (thrombophlebitis), and death of the soft tissue. The constellation of related tissue damage has lead many media reports to refer to desomorphine as a "flesh eating" or "flesh rotting" drug.910 Pure desomorphine itself is not known to cause these effects. Intravenous injection of street krokodil is also well known to cause life threatening blood stream infections, destruction of the heart valves, and death. Because desomorphine is short acting compared to morphine and heroin, the need for more frequent injection increases the risks of infection from Hepatitis C Virus and HIV.8
Risk of Death #
As with most opioids, death can occur at high doses because of respiratory depression. Street desomorphine carries additional potentially fatal risks associated with injecting impure chemicals into the body.
CAUTION & DISCLAIMER #
Erowid Basics pages are summaries of data gathered from site visitors, government documents, books, websites, and other resources. We do our best to keep this information correct and up-to-date, but the field is complex and constantly changing. Information should always be verified through multiple sources.

References #
  1. Eddy NB, Halbach H, Braenden OJ. "Synthetic Substances with Morphine-Like Effect". Synthetic Substances with Morphine-Like Effect 1957; 17:569-863
  2. Grund JC, Latypov A, Harris M. "Breaking worse: The emergence of krokodil and excessive injuries among people who inject drugs in Eurasia." International Journal of Drug Policy. 2013;24:265-274.
  3. US EPA; Estimation Program Interface (EPI) Suite. Ver. 4.1. Jan, 2010. Available from, as of Sep 29, 2013: http://www.epa.gov/oppt/exposure/pubs/episuitedl.htm
  4. O'Neil MJ (ed). The Merck Index - An Encyclopedia of Chemicals, Drugs, and Biologicals. Whitehouse Station, NJ: Merck and Co., Inc., 2006., p. 497
  5. SPARC; pKa/property server. Ver 4.5., Sept, 2009. Available from, as of Sep 29, 2013: http://archemcalc.com/sparc/
  6. Savchuk SA, et al. "Chromatographic Study of Expert and Biological Samples Containing Desomorphine". Journal of Analytical Chemistry. 2008;63:4:361-370.
  7. Sargent LJ, May EL. "Agonists-Antagonists Derived from Desomorphine and Metopon". Journal of Medicinal Chemistry. 1970;13:[6]:1061-1063.
  8. Gahr M, M; Schönfeldt-Lecuona, C; Hiemke, C; Gunst, IM; Connemann, BJ. "Desomorphine Goes "Crocodile". Journal of Addictive Diseases". 2012;31:[4]:407-412.
  9. Winter M. "Flesh-rotting 'krokodil' drug emerges in USA". USA Today. Sep 27 2013. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/09/26/heroin-krokodil-flesh-rotting-arrives-us-arizona/2879817/
  10. Erowid E. 2,500 results on google searching for "flesh eating" and "desomorphine" on Sep 29, 2013. https://www.google.com/search?q="flesh+eating"+desomorphine
  11. A V.. "Substances found in home-made desomorphine in Moscow analytical labs". Private Correspondence. Sep 29, 2013.