While heroin users may find it cheap and easy to make at home, the flesh-eating drug Krokodil has yet to hit Stark County.
Those who encounter heroin on the job say it's on the way. And they're worried.
"We're hoping that it doesn't hit this area, because if it does, it's going to be rather catastrophic," said Kristen Petrilla, director of community relations and education at Quest Recovery & Prevention Services of Canton.
Originating in Russia and named for "crocodile" because injecting it turns users' skin greenish and scaly, Krokodil also is called the zombie drug because it rots human flesh, according to police, those who deal with drug users and multiple websites. Like almost anything else, recipes for the illegal drug abound on the Internet.
Krokodil can be made by cooking codeine — the stuff found in cough syrup — with a variety of other easy-to-get substances, such as gasoline, paint thinner and lighter fluid. The result is a white powder similar to heroin.
The chemical created is desomorphine, and injecting it results in an infection that causes the skin discoloration and rotting, said Fran Gerbig, prevention coordinator for the Stark County's Mental Health and Recovery Services Board.
"We don't know if the infection is antibiotic-resistant. Until the infection is identified, we don't know how to treat it," she said.
But once the skin rots, the damage is done, she said. It doesn't regrow.
"Heroin users are the ones experimenting with this," said Lt. John Oliver, who heads the Stark Metropolitan Narcotics Unit. "It causes brain damage and damage to internal organs. It's a flesh-eating drug, and the end result is amputation."
Officials say that while the physical effects are far worse than heroin, Krokodil's high is similar, albeit shorter-lasting.
Krokodil appeals to heroin addicts, not because they can make it inexpensively or on a do-it-yourself basis, but because police have been successful in cutting off their supply of the more expensive heroin.
SUPPLY AND DEMAND
Detectives with the Canton Police Department's Special Investigations Unit say heroin typically sells for $50 a half-gram.
Derived from morphine, heroin is sold as a white or brown powder or as a "black sticky substance," according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse website at www.drugabuse.gov. It's illegal and extremely addictive.
It's also the "gateway drug" to Krokodil, said Inspector Bill Holland of the Summit County Sheriff's Department. "We've been well aware for over a year, and we've been watching for it in this area."
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine recently announced the formation of a statewide unit aimed at addressing the rising number of heroin "crime, addiction and overdose deaths," according to a news release from his office. DeWine said in the release that heroin deaths have doubled in the past few years, going from 292 in 2010 to 606 in 2012.
Page 2 of 3 - Oliver said the same is true for Stark County. "Heroin's bad everywhere. We're working heroin cases; they're our priority. We have definitely addressed 20 percent more heroin cases this year than we did last year. Are we eliminating it from the streets? No, we're not. We're doing our best, but (heroin is) an addiction that every addict fights to get."
Petrilla acknowledged that police have made a serious dent in heroin use in Stark County.
"Now that we're cracking down on the availability of heroin, we will see some (addicts) go after anything they can go after for that craving," she said.
But police in Canton already are seeing a difference in heroin.
THE EVOLUTION OF IMPURITIES
Canton Police Lt. John Gabbard, who heads the Special Investigations Unit, said police have come across heroin "with some unpredictable cuts."
Drug dealers have been cutting Ecstasy into heroin and, on occasion, other synthetic drugs. And some of those substances have caused infections that are Krokodil-like.
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, causes an infection that is resistant to many antibiotics.
The bacteria causes "large open wounds where the skin gets black and infected," Gabbard said. "It's similar to what they've seen with the Krokodil."
With Krokodil use, he said, the skin becomes green or greenish-black and scaly, likely because gangrene is setting in and tissue begins to die.
Cooking the morphine derivative with anything can be deadly.
"There are so many different recipes (for Krokodil) that contain so many toxic and corrosive ingredients with no purification process," Petrilla said. "So (drug users) are injecting something that has no business being injected into the human body, and, because of that, there's a lot of tissue damage."
Police believe Krokodil soon will surface in Stark County because it already has been reported in the Chicago area.
"We normally trend from Chicago and Detroit," Gabbard said. "Once you see something trending in Chicago, it's not long before it hits Canton."
Athens County Sheriff Patrick Kelly said that the drug showed up in his county after a heroin user bought five to 10 "balloons" containing what she believed to be heroin from someone in the Columbus area. Additionally, a paramedic and a nurse in Athens County treated heroin users that showed greenish, scaly skin at injection sites as recently as three weeks ago, he said.
Believing there could be more, Kelly promised that anyone who turns in heroin or suspected Krokodil will face no charges, adding that he hopes just to "get them help."
"When addiction takes over, they could really care less what they're putting into the body," the sheriff said.
Gerbig said that while Stark County has had no reported Krokodil use, those identified elsewhere are "definitely exhibiting the physical consequences of the drug Krokodil.
Page 3 of 3 - "What bothers me is (that) we've known about this for a number of years, that it's been in the poor areas of Russia, and that it was only a matter of time before it made it to the United States."
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On Twitter: @lmonsewiczREP