A flesh-eating heroin substitute from Russia called Krokodil is not showing up in the Hamilton and Niagara area, contrary to police and media reports.

Earlier this week, Niagara Police announced two reported cases of people being hospitalized because of Krokodil, an injectable opioid like heroin, that first became popular in Russia and Ukraine about 10 years ago.

It’s a blend of household chemicals like iodine, gasoline and lighter fluid mixed with codeine that rose to prominence in Eastern Europe because heroin became too expensive or unreliable. The drug is named for the ravaged, crocodile-like skin that forms around a user’s injection site.

'Even addicts don’t want their body to start falling off.'- Jim, former opioid user

But the two reported cases in the Niagara area were not medically confirmed before Niagara police made the announcement, and one has since been debunked as definitely not Krokodil, Niagara Police Const. Derek Watson told CBC Hamilton. The other case could not be confirmed.

“There was no testing to confirm 100 per cent that these were Krokodil cases,” he said.

It’s difficult to concretely identify a Krokodil user because complications and infections that arise from long-term heroin use look very similar. Krokodil can cause severe tissue damage that leads to limb amputations – and so can infections that spring up from extensive heroin use.

Watson told CBC Hamilton that even though the cases were unconfirmed, Niagara police felt they had a duty to inform the public of the risks.

“If we had this info and didn’t put it out there, and someone used it unknowingly, we wouldn’t be doing our jobs,” he said.

Not a moneymaker for dealers

No Krokodil users have been admitted into withdrawal programs in Hamilton run by St. Joseph’s Healthcare, says Debbie Bang, the manager of St. Joseph’s Healthcare Womankind addictions service.

Jim, a former heroin and opioid user from Hamilton says Krokodil isn’t in the city, and he doubts it will be. Jim asked his real name not be used.

“Everyone now knows what it does to you, so I don’t expect it being a thing,” he said. “The truth is drug dealers sell drugs to make money, and a drug like that would sell very badly because of all the media and stories about it.”

“It’s a supply and demand type deal — and those drugs are not high in demand,” he said.

Rebecca, another former opioid user, says she’s never heard of Krokodil showing up in Hamilton either. “People here are afraid of it. It eats your skin and muscle tissues if you miss,” she said.

Krokodil rose to prominence in Russia because heroin became very scarce, so this “made at home” version became popular despite the risks.

The opposite is true in Hamilton, where opioid use is exploding and starting to eclipse crack as the drug of choice on the streets. As heroin and other opioids are so readily available in Hamilton, Jim says, there is simply no Krokodil market.

“We have tons of opiates everywhere, there’s no need for it,” Jim said. “Even addicts don’t want their body to start falling off.”