Krokodil drug scare distorted by media

Xiyu Wang Nov 24, 2013
Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

If you’ve read the news recently, you’ve probably read about the scare over Krokodil. Krokodil, or desomorphine, is a drug that first popped up in Russia in the early 2000s as a substitute for heroin, and is known for its shocking side effects — it leaves the skin scaly and discolored (much like a crocodile’s), and in the worst cases may eat away the flesh entirely.

Given its horrifying properties, it seems unbelievable that use of this drug would spread. However, media outlets seem to take it as given that the drug is becoming an epidemic. One headline by The Huffington Post reads “Krokodil Could Be Spreading Across U.S.,” and one CBS headline warns, “Krokodil use reportedly spreading.” Is it really the case that Krokodil is an emerging threat to the public?

In reality, it is dubious that the drug has even reached North American shores. Although the drug is known for its necrotizing properties, infected IV needles may cause similar effects, creating a number of false positives. One Gawker headline reads “Flesh-Eating Drug Krokodil is Now Attacking Chicago Suburbs,” when the article mentions that only three cases have been reported. Similarly, headlines have been decrying the spread of the drug to places such as Ohio, Arizona, and even Canada, when, in all of these areas, there are less than a handful of cases of the drug, none of them actually confirmed by laboratory testing.

Looking a bit more into the issue, it becomes clear that the fears of an epidemic are entirely unsubstantiated. As an International Business Times article article states: “Experts have said it is unlikely the drug has even really left Russia, as it is only used by people in remote parts of the country where heroin has become too expensive or unavailable — it is turned to as a last resort among addicts.” The article goes on to further mention that there have been no cases of Krokodil confirmed by the Drug Enforcement Administration laboratory.

The coverage of Krokodil is highly reminiscent of the bath salts scare from last year. In fact, it is all too common for the news media to depict every new drug that pops up as an epidemic. Maybe it comes from the psychology created by the war on drugs: If there is a new drug, it is assumed that people, especially drug users, are constantly searching for a new high and are desperate to get their hands on anything to experience it. This particular case of Krokodil may also play to the zombie fascination in society; many articles describe it as a “zombie” drug.

The media needs to stop hyping up cases where a new drug has been reportedly used. It is sophomoric and highly grating upon the collective intelligence of the public to create a panic every time a few random people use a new drug.

Furthermore, although drug addiction is a serious problem in the U.S., this kind of sensationalism distorts the truth of the matter. Intelligent discourse in the media regarding the war on drugs is long due, although it may take a while before we actually get it.