For those unfamiliar with the drug, krokodil is a street drug that reached epidemic levels in Russia. Made from simple codeine, which was purchasable over-the-counter, mixed with a bunch of solvents and stuff–like the red phosphorous on match heads and other junk–it became popular for being very cheap to manufacture and very easy to find. Many people who became addicted to heroin came to find that krokodil, which is called “the flesh-eating drug” by people desperate for a headline, was one-tenth the price and a lot easier to find. Reportedly, the high is also better. The only problem? Well, it’s called “the flesh-eating drug” for a reason. Here’s one of those reasons.
While that is a somewhat extreme case, it’s typical of what the drug does. Desomorphine itself–the pharmaceutical name–doesn’t have these effects, but the impure street version does. It causes necrosis, and one’s flesh, muscle, and fat literally begin rotting away. Doctors can tell a krokodil user by the smell alone, because they smell like rotting flesh. It’s seriously, seriously bad stuff.
When I argue against the Drug War and the criminalization of drugs and drug users, I usually get a reply something along the lines of, “So you want people to be able to just buy heroin cheaply and easily?”
Allow me the indulgence of answering that question with a question.
So you want people to invent and use krokodil?
Here in the real world, there are a few basic facts that we simply have to accept, because they have never changed and are never going to change. So let’s get those out of the way.
1. Some people want to be high.
Some people want to be high, some people need to be high, whatever. How we phrase it isn’t terribly important, because it’s an observable fact. Half the country gets high every single morning from caffeine. Probably ten percent of the country gets high every evening from alcohol. Very, very few people go through life completely sober. Someone could make the argument, “But I go through life, and I don’t drink or do any drugs! I get along just fine!” and that’s great, but it’s reckless, irresponsible, and arrogant to demand that other people live the way that you do. I go through life without watching television. Does that mean it would be justification for outlawing television, which likely does more harm to “society” than any drug does? No, of course not. How I live my life has no relevance to how you want to live your life. It’s your life.
2. Outlawing a drug doesn’t eliminate the desire to be high, or to use that drug.
We all know this to be true. If we outlawed caffeine tomorrow, it would do nothing to get rid of all the people who want to drink coffee. When the Federal Government lost its mind and passed Prohibition, outlawing alcohol across the country, it did not eliminate the people who wanted to drink; people still wanted to drink, and people like Al Capone stepped up to provide. We see this happening today with the Drug War. The Great Unspoken Truth about the steady legalization of marijuana is that we are already getting marijuana pretty easily, and that’s how we know it isn’t dangerous and really shouldn’t be illegal. Making marijuana illegal hasn’t stopped people from wanting to smoke it, and it certainly hasn’t made it impossible for people to get it. In fact, when you look at things rationally, it seems the Federal Government’s only real purpose here is to arrest minorities and create criminal gangs.
In Russia, outlawing heroin hasn’t kept people off heroin. In fact, due to its adjacency to the poppy fields of Afghanistan that we “helpfully” restored following our invasion in 2001, Russians have a relatively easy time getting heroin–easier than here in the United States. There are times when it is hard to find, of course, and that’s true of every drug, and price fluctuations hit addicts hardest. So if you have a heroin addict who can’t afford heroin or can’t find it…
3. When people become addicted severely enough, they will do anything to scratch that itch.
One Krokodil special aired a few years ago showed a 13 year old prostitute selling sex so that she could afford krokodil. Prostitution, of course, is especially rampant among hardcore drug users, because an addict will do anything necessary to prevent or end withdrawals. It’s tragic, and it’s a problem that really shouldn’t exist, but it does. Why? Because various drug wars have made heroin hard to find, and therefore more expensive. Basic economics tells us that a good’s price is linked to its demand and supply relationship. If the Federal Government outlawed pink slippers with rainbows on them, it wouldn’t drive up the underground price of pink slippers with rainbows, because there’s no demand for those. But, as we pointed out in #1, there is a demand for drugs, and there always will be. When supply is hindered by government regulations, prices go up. This is, in fact, one of the four basic economic principles:
- If Supply decreases while Demand remains the same, the price will go up and equilibrium quantity will go down.
In other words, if the same people want heroin after the police raid that captured 4500 tons of heroin as wanted heroin before the police raid, and if the supply of heroin is now 4500 tons lower than what it was, the price on heroin that is in circulation will go up–if one gram was $10, it might increase to one gram for $25. After years of law enforcement drug raids and various crack downs on drugs, it’s easy to see that screwing up the supply like this while doing nothing about the demand (because, indeed, nothing really can be done to lower demand, see points 1 & 2), heroin will steadily become more expensive. It’s a mathematical certainty that each heroin addict faces: one day, heroin will be too expensive for them to continue using.
When this happens, they will pull out every trick in the book–no pun intended. It’s at this point that 13 year old girls become prostitutes, either to buy the drug for themselves or because their parents force them to do it and give the money to the parent so the addicted parent can buy the drug. Welcome to the real world of drug control. This is the stuff that drug control advocates don’t talk about, because it’s easier for them to ignore it all and complain that heroin is the root of the problem, and that if we just cracked down even more, we might suddenly find the magical solution that allows prohibition to work.
Except it doesn’t, it hasn’t, and it never will.
After nearly four decades of the Drug War, what has been the result? We’ve gotten so used to smoking pot that we’re legalizing it across the country. Within a fifty mile radius, I could find any drug I wanted. Hell, just Saturday night this chick and I took some rolls [ecstasy], and they weren’t very hard to find. They were expensive–$20 for each triple stack white dolphin–but they weren’t hard to find. I think it took four phone calls, and about twenty minutes of driving. I could find coke, crack, heroin, meth, weed, or just about anything else, and I don’t really have any connections. Drugs are easy to find, and the Drug War has been raging for nearly forty years.
But, oh, no, I’m sure you’re right. If we just nail in one more nail, we can somehow make this ramshackle birdhouse hold together. This next nail will be the one that finally repairs it! Definitely!
No, I don’t want people doing heroin. I don’t want them doing meth, crack, or coke, either. But I have no right to stop them. I can educate them of the risk, dependency dangers, and problems, but that’s where my power ends. Just because I think it’s a bad idea to do those doesn’t give me any authority to tell someone else, another thinking, breathing, functioning human being with free will, what they can and cannot do. And even if I was arrogant enough to try to tell them they can’t do heroin, and if I was tyrannical enough to give myself the authority to dictate over them, it wouldn’t do any good if they wanted to do heroin.
I’ve long since given up on trying to get my cats to not shred the back of my recliner. They know that I don’t want them to sharpen their nails on it, and they know I hate it. But what are my options? I’ve made it illegal for them to sharpen their claws on the back of the recliner, and the little bastards keep doing it anyway! It’s almost like making it illegal had no effect on their desire to do it or something! So what are my options? Well, I could arrest them and throw them in a cat carrier/prison for a length of time when they do it. That’s kinda messed up, though, isn’t it? “RAWR, you did something I don’t approve of! Now be kidnapped against your will and imprisoned until I release you!” Yeah, that’s immoral, violent, and psychotic. I could also punish them with violence–kicking them or slapping them. But we’d immediately see the immorality of that, too, and I’d never harm either of my cats–a fact that they know and exploit to their full advantage.
Really, my best option is just to accept that cats are gonna be cats, and they’re gonna do cat things. It seems pretty stupid to punish a cat for being a cat who does cat-like things.
Read the preceding two paragraphs again, but replace “clawing the furniture” with “doing heroin” and replace “cats” with “heroin addict.”
The Rise of Krokodil
So I want you to picture now a woman in her early 20s. She’s thin and kinda ragged looking, though not unkempt or unclean. She’s shaking, cold, sweating, and shivering, and she has just knocked on a door in a bad part of a Russian slum. “I need a hit bad,” she says when her dealer opens the door. “I’ve only got $7, though… That’s all I could get.”
The dealer understands her plight. After all, he guided her down this road. However, he shakes his head. “Cops raided the warehouse last month… $7 won’t get you a hit anymore. Cheapest we have is $15 for one hit.”
“I’ll do you some favors–” the woman begins, but the dealer laughs.
The woman hangs her head, defeated. She’s already contracted syphilis from two years of prostitution, and probably HIV, though she has no way to test for that. And the dealer has no shortage of women who are willing to do “favors” in return for drugs, and most of them are a lot younger, prettier, and less used than the woman on his doorstep. Even if she didn’t have STDs, the dealer wouldn’t take the offer because there are just too many other, better female addicts that he could turn to. But since he’s a drug dealer in a slum, he’s not hurting for money, so he’s got plenty of women lining up to be with him for free anyway.
“Please, you’ve got to help me!” the woman says, and her desperation is obvious. She hasn’t had a hit in more than 24 hours, and she honestly feels like she’s going to die. Every part of her body is revolting against her. Her limbs are on fire, and her brain has only a single thought: “We need to be high. We need to be high. We need to be high.” All she wants now is to make that go away, and she doesn’t really care what it takes.
“I’ve got something else that’s like heroin,” the dealer begins. “It’s cheaper, and the high is even better than heroin, but it is a bit more dangerous.”
“Anything!” the woman says. “I don’t care. How much?”
“You can have two hits for $7.”
And just like that, a new krokodil user is born.
How often does the above hypothetical play out? Quite a lot more often than you’d think. I was only ever addicted to pain killers, and I got out before the problem progressed too badly, but a family member is now boasting about how he’s doing heroin–and anything else he can find, and it’s sad. We all know where that road goes. Women are not the only people who turn to prostitution for drugs. Bob Saget shouting, “I sucked dick for coke!” should remind us all of that. These are all events that happen around us all the time.
No one ever says, “Yeah! I want to get addicted to drugs and start selling my body so I can score more drugs!”
It doesn’t happen that way. It begins as a fun, recreational thing, and it’s something the user has control over. But it’s fun, so the user continues. The user feels control begin to slip away, and the user knows, in the back of their mind, that they have to stop right now, and that, if they don’t, they’ll eventually lose control. But that’s where it stays: “If I don’t stop soon, I’ll lose control.” Two weeks later: “If I don’t stop soon, I’ll lose control.” Two months later: “If I don’t stop soon, I’ll lose control.” Two years later: “Shit. I lost control.”
It’s not fun, and it’s not as much a character defect as it is a fluke of human psychology. Sometimes it’s just hard to see the freight train coming your way, even when you’re looking at it and saying to yourself, “I have to get off the track soon… I have to get off the track soon…”
It’s too late.
If heroin wasn’t so expensive and hard to get, people would never have conceived a street method of making desomorphine, and they wouldn’t be permanently destroying their bodies to chase that particular dragon. Instead, they’d be able to buy pure, quality morphine from a pharmacy, reliably and at a decent price.
Thanks to the drug war, we don’t just have drug addicts. We have drug addicts with rotten flesh consuming the flesh-eating drug.
If heroin was legal, none of it would ever have happened.
So no, I don’t want people doing heroin.
But I’d rather people do heroin safely and openly than cut their life expectancy down to “two or three years at the most” by home-cooking a drug that will literally rot their flesh. And if you think otherwise, I’d suggest you have some serious denial issues to work out about how “effective” you think drug control is and what it actually accomplishes. What it accomplished was people home-cooking krokodil because they couldn’t get heroin cheaply and easily.
It’s time to get away from the moral hypocrisy of saying “This drug is acceptable, but that drug isn’t.” It’s time to stop green checkmarking “these” drugs, like alcohol and caffeine, while red xing “those” drugs, like marijuana and heroin. Americans and Russians need to face krokodil and deal with the actual problem: the drug war and the criminalization of drugs. Because krokodil is 100% a product of the Drug War.
Is this what your tax dollars bought? Is this what Russians’ tax dollars bought?
Now get pissed about it and fix the problem by legalizing all drugs and allowing people to be free.