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Systematic (IUPAC) name
Clinical data
Trade names Permonid
Very high
427-00-9 N
PubChem CID 5362456
ChemSpider 4515044 YesY
UNII 7OP86J5E33 YesY
Synonyms Desomorphine, dihydrodesoxymorphine, Permonid
Chemical data
Formula C17H21NO2
271.354 g/mol
 N (what is this?)  (verify)

Desomorphine (dihydrodesoxymorphine, former brand name Permonid, street name krokodil) is a derivative of morphine with powerful, fast-acting opioid effects, such as sedation and analgesia.[1][2][3][4] First synthesized in 1932 and patented in 1934,[5] desomorphine was used in Switzerland under the brand name Permonid[6] and was described as having a fast onset and a short duration of action, with relatively little nausea or respiratory depression compared to equivalent doses of morphine. Dose-by-dose it is eight to ten times more potent than morphine.[7]

Desomorphine is derived from morphine where the 6-hydroxyl group and the 7,8 double bond have been reduced.[5] The traditional synthesis of desomorphine starts from α-chlorocodide, which is itself obtained by reacting thionyl chloride with codeine. By catalytic reduction, α-chlorocodide gives dihydrodesoxycodeine, which yields desomorphine on demethylation.[8][9]

Medical uses[edit]

It was previously used in Switzerland and Russia for the treatment of severe pain; although for many years up to 1981, when its use was terminated, it was being used to treat a single person in Bern, Switzerland with a rare illness.[10]

Abuse liability[edit]

Test subjects were subjected to desomorphine intake. The completed tests on animal subjects produced results that contrast desomorphine to morphine. Compared to morphine, the results show increased toxicity, more potent relief of pain, higher levels of general depression, decreased respiration, and increased digestive activity. Early medical trials of humans taking desomorphine have resulted in the finding that, like morphine and most other analgesics of the morphine type, small amounts are highly addictive and tolerance to the drug develops quickly. However, though tolerance to respiratory depression with repeated doses was observed in rats, early clinical trials failed to show any tolerance to these same effects with repeated doses in humans. As of 2014, desomorphine is a Schedule 1 controlled substance, indicating that the United States FDA has determined that there are no legal medicinal uses for desomorphine in the U.S.. It has maintained this status as a controlled substance in the United States since 1936. [11]


Illicitly produced desomorphine typically contains large amounts of toxic substances as a result of being "cooked" and used without any significant effort to remove the byproducts and leftovers from synthesis. Injecting any such mixture can cause serious damage of the skin, blood vessels, bone and muscles, sometimes requiring limb amputation in long-term users.[7] Causes of this damage are from iodine and phosphorus (and other toxic substances) that are present after synthesis. The large volume of tissue damage/infection is what gained the drug its nickname of the flesh-eating drug, as homemade versions made by suppliers and users contain multiple impurities and toxic substances that lead to such tissue damage/infection (the pure form of the drug itself would not cause this damage).[12] Gangrene, phlebitis, thrombosis (blood clots), pneumonia, meningitis, septicaemia (blood infection),osteomyelitis (bone infection), liver & kidney damage, brain damage and HIV/AIDS are also common amongst users of krokodil.[13] Sometimes, the user will miss the vein when injecting the desomorphine, creating abscess and causing death of the flesh surrounding the entry-point.[7]

Physical and chemical properties[edit]

Desomorphine has a molecular weight of 271.35 g/mol and three salts are used: hydrobromide (free-base conversion ratio 0.770), hydrochloride (0.881) and sulfate (0.802).[14] Its freebase form is slightly soluble in water (1.425 g/L at 25 °C), although its salts are very water soluble; its freebase form is also very soluble in most polar organic solvents (like acetone, ethanol and ethyl acetate).[7] Its melting point is 189 °C.[7] It has a pKa of 9.69.[7]

Krokodil is made from codeine mixed with other substances. The codeine is retrieved from over-the-counter medicine and is then mixed with ethanol, gasoline, red phosphorus, iodine, hydrochloric acid and paint thinner.[7] Toxic nitrogen oxides fumes emerge from the drug when heated.[15]


Desomorphine was first synthesised in the U.S. in 1932 and patented on November 13, 1934.[10] In Russia, desomorphine was declared an illegal narcotic analgesic in 1998. However, while codeine-containing drugs generally have been prescription products in Europe, in Russia they were sold freely over-the-counter until June 2012.[16] The number of users in Russia was estimated to have reached around one million at the peak of the drug's popularity.[17]

Society and culture[edit]

Recreational use[edit]

Desomorphine abuse in Russia attracted international attention in 2010 due to an increase in clandestine production, presumably due to its relatively simple synthesis from codeine available over-the-counter. Abuse of homemade desomorphine was first reported in Siberia in 2003 when Russia started a major crackdown on heroin production and trafficking, but has since spread throughout Russia and the neighboring former Soviet republics.[10]

The drug can be made from codeine, iodine derived from OTC medications and red phosphorus from match strikers,[18] in a process similar to the manufacture of methamphetamine from pseudoephedrine. Like methamphetamine, desomorphine made this way is often contaminated with various agents. The street name in Russia for homemade desomorphine is krokodil (Russian: крокодил, crocodile), possibly related to the chemical name of the precursor α-chlorocodide, or similarity of a skin, damaged by the drug use, to crocodile leather.[10] Due to difficulties in procuring heroin, combined with easy and cheap access to over-the-counter pharmacy products containing codeine in Russia, use of krokodil increased until 2012.[13] In 2012 the Russian federal government introduced new restrictions for the sale of codeine containing medications. This policy change likely diminished, but did not extinguish krokodil use in Russia.[19] It has been estimated that around 100,000 people use krokodil in Russia and around 20,000 in Ukraine.[13] One death in Poland in December 2011 was also believed to have been caused by krokodil use, and its use has been confirmed among Russian expatriate communities in a number of other European countries.[20]

Western media coverage[edit]

The media in the U.S. and Canada have brought awareness to desomorphine. There have been incidents reported where desomorphine had supposedly been present within either country but no incidents have been confirmed by any drug-testing reports.[21][22] However, a 2014 episode of the National Geographic Channel series Drugs, Inc. suggested that the drug had indeed reached North America.[23]

Internet search behavior and krokodil use in the Russian Federation[edit]

Illicit drug use data are generally regarded as difficult to obtain through traditional survey methods. A 2014 paper suggested it is plausible that Internet search behavior can serve as a proxy for patterns of krokodil production and use in Russia.[19] More generally, this study demonstrated the application of novel methods used by policy makers to both monitor illicit drug use and influence drug policy decision making.


  1. ^ Casy, Alan F.; Parfitt, Robert T. (1986). Opioid analgesics: chemistry and receptors. New York: Plenum Press. p. 32. ISBN 978-0-306-42130-3. 
  2. ^ Bognar, R; Makleit, S (1958). "Neue Methode für die Vorbereitung von dihydro-6-desoxymorphine" [New method for the preparation of dihydro-6-desoxymorphine]. Arzneimittel-Forschung (in German) 8 (6): 323–5. PMID 13546093. 
  3. ^ Janssen, Paul A. J. (1962). "A Review of the Chemical Features Associated with Strong Morphine-Like Activity". British Journal of Anaesthesia 34 (4): 260–8. doi:10.1093/bja/34.4.260. PMID 14451235. 
  4. ^ Sargent, Lewis J.; May, Everette L. (1970). "Agonists-antagonists derived from desomorphine and metopon". Journal of Medicinal Chemistry 13 (6): 1061–3. doi:10.1021/jm00300a009. PMID 4098039. 
  5. ^ a b US patent 1980972, Lyndon Frederick Small, "Morphine Derivative and Processes", published 1934-19-07, issued 1934-13-11 
  6. ^ "Krokodil". New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Katselou, M; Papoutsis, I; Nikolaou, P; Spiliopoulou, C; Athanaselis, S (May 2014). "A "Krokodil" emerges from the murky waters of addiction. Abuse trends of an old drug.". Life Sciences 102 (2): 81–87. doi:10.1016/j.lfs.2014.03.008. PMID 24650492. 
  8. ^ Mosettig, Erich; Cohen, Frank L.; Small, Lyndon F. (1932). "Desoxycodeine Studies. III. The Constitution of the So-Called α-Dihydrodesoxycodeine: Bis-Dihydrodesoxycodeine". Journal of the American Chemical Society 54 (2): 793–801. doi:10.1021/ja01341a051. 
  9. ^ Eddy, Nathan B.; Howes, Homer A. (1935). "Studies of Morphine, Codeine and their Derivatives X. Desoxymorphine-C, Desoxycodeine-C and their Hydrogenated Derivatives". Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics 55 (3): 257–67. 
  10. ^ a b c d Gahr, M; Freudenmann, RW; Hiemke, C; Gunst, IM; Connemann, BJ; Schönfeldt-Lecuona, C (2012). "Desomorphine goes "crocodile".". Journal of Addictive Diseases 31 (4): 407–12. doi:10.1080/10550887.2012.735570. PMID 23244560. 
  11. ^ "DESOMORPHINE (Dihydrodesoxymorphine; dihydrodesoxymorphine-D; Street Name: Krokodil, Crocodil". Drug Enforcement Administration. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  12. ^ "Desomorphine (Krokodil) Basics". Erowid. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  13. ^ a b c Grund JP, Latypov A, Harris M (2013). "Breaking worse: The emergence of krokodil and excessive injuries among people who inject drugs in Eurasia". International Journal of Drug Policy 24 (4): 265–274. doi:10.1016/j.drugpo.2013.04.007. PMID 23726898. 
  14. ^ "Permonid". PubChem Compound. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved 5 May 2014. 
  15. ^ "Desomorphine". Specialized Information Services. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  16. ^ Берсенева А. (23 June 2011). "Без рецепта не обезболят". Gazeta.ru. Retrieved 12 January 2014. 
  17. ^ "Krokodil". New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  18. ^ Savchuk, S. A.; Barsegyan, S. S.; Barsegyan, I. B.; Kolesov, G. M. (2011). "Chromatographic study of expert and biological samples containing desomorphine". Journal of Analytical Chemistry 63 (4): 361–70. doi:10.1134/S1061934808040096. 
  19. ^ a b Zheluk A, Quinn C, Meylakhs P (2014). "Internet Search and Krokodil in the Russian Federation: An Infoveillance Study". Journal of Medical Internet Research 16 (9): e212. doi:10.2196/jmir.3203. PMID 25236385. 
  20. ^ Skowronek R, Celiński R, Chowaniec C (2012). ""Crocodile" – new dangerous designer drug of abuse from the East". Clinical Toxicology 50 (4): 269. doi:10.3109/15563650.2012.660574. PMID 22385107. 
  21. ^ No Confirmed Reports of Desomorphine ( "Krokodil" / "Crocodile" ) in Canada. Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. November 21, 2013. ISBN 978-1-77178-052-0. 
  22. ^ "‘Krokodil’ in the United States Is an Urban Legend and Not a Medical Fact". The American Journal of Medicine. Retrieved July 2014. 
  23. ^ "Flesh-Eating Krokodil." Drugs, Inc. Exec. Prod. Chris Lent and Jonathan Hewes. Nar. Huey Morgan. National Geographic Channel. 12 Nov. 2014.

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398 news items

Slate Magazine (blog)

Slate Magazine (blog)
Mon, 18 Nov 2013 06:42:04 -0800

Krokodil, or desomorphine, is a cheap heroin substitute. You get it by mixing codeine with paint thinner, gasoline, and several other toxic ingredients. The drug first popped up in Eastern Europe early last decade, and appears to be relatively popular ...

Decoded Science

Decoded Science
Sun, 29 Sep 2013 08:45:07 -0700

... to the United States, according to ABC news. The drug, 'krokodil' – Russian for “crocodile” – is a street drug that is a cheaper version of heroin and similar to morphine. Why do users call desomorphine 'Krokodil'? It causes sores, tissue damage ...

vestnik kavkaza

vestnik kavkaza
Wed, 19 Nov 2014 07:58:40 -0800

A desomorphine den has been eliminated in Makhachkala. The ten was established by a citizen of Bahrain, a 21-year-old Ali Almutava. Almutava has been living in Makhachkala for several years with the purpose of finding a wife and bringing her to Bahrain.
Mon, 07 Oct 2013 11:33:45 -0700

Recently various media outlets have been hyping a drug that cuts out the middleman and does the flesh eating all on its own: krokodil, a homemade version of desomorphine that originated in Russia as a heroin substitute. Last month health officials in ...

Guardian Express

Guardian Express
Mon, 14 Oct 2013 17:18:37 -0700

Scientists in the U.S. discovered desomorphine in 1932 while in the process of finding a less addictive substitute for morphine. In preclinical trials, desomorphine indicated low addiction possibilities, but in human trials, it showed a probability of ...
Thu, 23 Jun 2011 08:13:47 -0700

Desomorphine, drug for the poor, kills all of its victims. 44727.jpeg The police of the city of Ufa found a drug nest in one of the city apartments. The police found a pregnant woman and two young mothers in a state of strong narcotic intoxication in a ...


Fri, 10 Jan 2014 04:02:19 -0800

By now you probably have heard that krokodil, a nasty homemade version of the narcotic painkiller desomorphine, is starting to catch on in the United States. Having eaten its way through the flesh of myriad Russian opiate addicts, the caustic ...

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San Angelo LIVE!
Fri, 30 Jan 2015 06:48:35 -0800

Originally invented in 1932, desomorphine was offered as a faster, more potent alternative to morphine for alleviating pain in terminally ill patients. However, with the high toxicity and complications that came with its use, the medical community ...

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