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Weedsteeler Drug Awareness Month: Krokodil (homemade Russian heroin) Edition

Oleg glances furtively around him and, confident that nobody is watching, slips inside the entrance to a decaying Soviet-era block of flats, where Sasha is waiting for him. Ensconced in the dingy kitchen of one of the apartments, they empty the contents of a blue carrier bag that Oleg has brought with him – painkillers, iodine, lighter fluid, industrial cleaning oil, and an array of vials, syringes, and cooking implements.

Half an hour later, after much boiling, distilling, mixing and shaking, what remains is a caramel-coloured gunge held in the end of a syringe, and the acrid smell of burnt iodine in the air. Sasha fixes a dirty needle to the syringe and looks for a vein in his bruised forearm. After some time, he finds a suitable place, and hands the syringe to Oleg, telling him to inject the fluid. He closes his eyes, and takes the hit.

Russia has more heroin users than any other country in the world – up to two million, according to unofficial estimates. For most, their lot is a life of crime, stints in prison, probable contraction of HIV and hepatitis C, and an early death. As efforts to stem the flow of Afghan heroin into Russia bring some limited success, and the street price of the drug goes up, for those addicts who can’t afford their next hit, an even more terrifying spectre has raised its head.
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The home-made drug that Oleg and Sasha inject is known as krokodil, or “crocodile”. It is desomorphine, a synthetic opiate many times more powerful than heroin that is created from a complex chain of mixing and chemical reactions, which the addicts perform from memory several times a day. While heroin costs from £20 to £60 per dose, desomorphine can be “cooked” from codeine-based headache pills that cost £2 per pack, and other household ingredients available cheaply from the markets.

It is a drug for the poor, and its effects are horrific. It was given its reptilian name because its poisonous ingredients quickly turn the skin scaly. Worse follows. Oleg and Sasha have not been using for long, but Oleg has rotting sores on the back of his neck.

“If you miss the vein, that’s an abscess straight away,” says Sasha. Essentially, they are injecting poison directly into their flesh. One of their friends, in a neighbouring apartment block, is further down the line.

“She won’t go to hospital, she just keeps injecting. Her flesh is falling off and she can hardly move anymore,” says Sasha. Photographs of late-stage krokodil addicts are disturbing in the extreme. Flesh goes grey and peels away to leave bones exposed. People literally rot to death.

Russian heroin addicts first discovered how to make krokodil around four years ago, and there has been a steady rise in consumption, with a sudden peak in recent months. “Over the past five years, sales of codeine-based tablets have grown by dozens of times,” says Viktor Ivanov, the head of Russia’s Drug Control Agency. “It’s pretty obvious that it’s not because everyone has suddenly developed headaches.”

Heroin addiction kills 30,000 people per year in Russia – a third of global deaths from the drug – but now there is the added problem of krokodil. Mr Ivanov recalled a recent visit to a drug-treatment centre in Western Siberia. “They told me that two years ago almost all their drug users used heroin,” said the drugs tsar. “Now, more than half of them are on desomorphine.”

He estimates that overall, around 5 per cent of Russian drug users are on krokodil and other home-made drugs, which works out at about 100,000 people. It’s a huge, hidden epidemic – worse in the really isolated parts of Russia where supplies of heroin are patchy – but palpable even in cities such as Tver.

It has a population of half a million, and is a couple of hours by train from Moscow, en route to St Petersburg. Its city centre, sat on the River Volga, is lined with pretty, Tsarist-era buildings, but the suburbs are miserable. People sit on cracked wooden benches in a weed-infested “park”, gulping cans of Jaguar, an alcoholic energy drink. In the background, there are rows of crumbling apartment blocks. The shops and restaurants of Moscow are a world away; for a treat, people take the bus to the McDonald’s by the train station.

In the city’s main drug treatment centre, Artyom Yegorov talks of the devastation that krokodil is causing. “Desomorphine causes the strongest levels of addiction, and is the hardest to cure,” says the young doctor, sitting in a treatment room in the scruffy clinic, below a picture of Hugh Laurie as Dr House.

“With heroin withdrawal, the main symptoms last for five to 10 days. After that there is still a big danger of relapse but the physical pain will be gone. With krokodil, the pain can last up to a month, and it’s unbearable. They have to be injected with extremely strong tranquilisers just to keep them from passing out from the pain.”

Dr Yegorov says krokodil users are instantly identifiable because of their smell. “It’s that smell of iodine that infuses all their clothes,” he says. “There’s no way to wash it out, all you can do is burn the clothes. Any flat that has been used as a krokodil cooking house is best forgotten about as a place to live. You’ll never get that smell out of the flat.”

Addicts in Tver say they never have any problems buying the key ingredient for krokodil – codeine pills, which are sold without prescription. “Once I was trying to buy four packs, and the woman told me they could only sell two to any one person,” recalls one, with a laugh. “So I bought two packs, then came back five minutes later and bought another two. Other than that, they never refuse to sell it to us, even though they know what we’re going to do with it.” The solution, to many, is obvious: ban the sale of codeine tablets, or at least make them prescription-only. But despite the authorities being aware of the problem for well over a year, nothing has been done.

President Dmitry Medvedev has called for websites which explain how to make krokodil to be closed down, but he has not ordered the banning of the pills. Last month, a spokesman for the ministry of health said that there were plans to make codeine-based tablets available only on prescription, but that it was impossible to introduce the measure quickly. Opponents claim lobbying by pharmaceutical companies has caused the inaction.

“A year ago we said that we need to introduce prescriptions,” says Mr Ivanov. “These tablets don’t cost much but the profit margins are high. Some pharmacies make up to 25 per cent of their profits from the sale of these tablets. It’s not in the interests of pharmaceutical companies or pharmacies themselves to stop this, so the government needs to use its power to regulate their sale.”

In addition to krokodil, there are reports of drug users injecting other artificial mixes, and the latest street drug is tropicamide. Used as eye drops by ophthalmologists to dilate the pupils during eye examinations, Dr Yegorov says patients have no trouble getting hold of capsules of it for about £2 per vial. Injected, the drug has severe psychiatric effects and brings on suicidal feelings.

“Addicts are being sold drugs by normal Russian women working in pharmacies, who know exactly what they’ll be used for,” said Yevgeny Roizman, an anti-drugs activist who was one of the first to talk publicly about the krokodil issue earlier this year. “Selling them to boys the same age as their own sons. Russians are killing Russians.”

Zhenya, quietly spoken and wearing dark glasses, agrees to tell his story while I sit in the back of his car in a lay-by on the outskirts of Tver. He managed to kick the habit, after spending weeks at a detox clinic ,experiencing horrendous withdrawal symptoms that included seizures, a 40-degree temperature and vomiting. He lost 14 teeth after his gums rotted away, and contracted hepatitis C.

But his fate is essentially a miraculous escape – after all, he’s still alive. Zhenya is from a small town outside Tver, and was a heroin addict for a decade before he moved onto krokodil a year ago. Of the ten friends he started injecting heroin with a decade ago, seven are dead.

Unlike heroin, where the hit can last for several hours, a krokodil high only lasts between 90 minutes and two hours, says Zhenya. Given that the “cooking” process takes at least half an hour, being a krokodil addict is basically a full-time job.

“I remember one day, we cooked for three days straight,” says one of Zhenya’s friends. “You don’t sleep much when you’re on krokodil, as you need to wake up every couple of hours for another hit. At the time we were cooking it at our place, and loads of people came round and pitched in. For three days we just kept on making it. By the end, we all staggered out yellow, exhausted and stinking of iodine.”

In Tver, most krokodil users inject the drug only when they run out of money for heroin. As soon as they earn or steal enough, they go back to heroin. In other more isolated regions of Russia, where heroin is more expensive and people are poorer, the problem is worse. People become full-time krokodil addicts, giving them a life expectancy of less than a year.

Zhenya says every single addict he knows in his town has moved from heroin to krokodil, because it’s cheaper and easier to get hold of. “You can feel how disgusting it is when you’re doing it,” he recalls. “You’re dreaming of heroin, of something that feels clean and not like poison. But you can’t afford it, so you keep doing the krokodil. Until you die.”

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Destroying Your Life For Satan: Bath Salt Butcher Edition


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Completely Dusted On Woonga

Whoonga is an addictive recreational drug that has come into use in South Africa, notably the impoverished townships of Durban. It seems to have been invented there. It is appearing in other places in South Africa as well.

Whoonga is a mixture of rat poison, powdered detergent and various anti-retroviral drugs. It is distributed as a fine white powder. Users add the powder to marijuana and smoke the mixture. However, AIDS experts claim there is no ingredient in the AIDS cocktail that can give whoonga users a high and that users are fooling themselves.

The drug is highly addictive. Project Whoonga, a charity devoted to combating the drug, reports that users feel heavy cravings even on the first day of use. It is also dangerous, because it reduces both heart and lung function. In overdose, heart and lung function reduction becomes fatal. Withdrawal symptoms reportedly involve both craving and pain, which are temporarily relieved by fresh doses of the drug.

The anti-retroviral drugs used to make whoonga are those distributed in the area to patients with HIV. The major sources of the anti-retrovirals appears to be robbery of HIV patients. There are media reports of HIV patients being mugged for their pills as they leave the clinics where they obtain them. Reports also indicate that some patients sell their HIV medications and that some corrupt health workers may be selling the anti-retrovirals illegally into the whoonga market.

The cost of the drug is reported to be about 20 rand, or three US dollars . However, reports indicate that a whoonga addict needs several doses a day, and users are typically too poor to afford the drug out of their legal income. Addicts therefore turn to crime to raise the money for their supply. There are reports that some whoonga addicts attempt to become HIV-positive, since anti-retrovirals are distributed to poor HIV patients free of charge.

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Death to Old Media. Long Live Old Media.

We here at Weedsteeler World Wide really don’t care for old media. It’s long dead and in this town is an especially bloated corpse of un-opinionated, right-wing, cult run, advertisements for shitty suburban corporate pizza places. The fact is we all know if you are going to be a right-wing organization you need cool uniforms. If you are going to be in a cult, the theme should not be imposter indie rockers finding God but space religions or something real weird. Fuck suburban chain pizza  places and I would rather read bad reviews instead of cult members servicing “friend-rock” bands using hand sanitzier as lubricant.

That said, Columbus now has a new newspaper. It is called The Slammer. The theme of the Slammer is mugshots from Franklin County (though it is sold in a few different states with each issue featuring mugshots based upon where it is sold). Weedsteeler loves (glamour) mug shots. I took this to one of my finals and a sorority girl was appalled  which should tell you The Slammer is a must buy. Catch some ill flicks of wild latinos with face tattoos, methed out grandma and other assorted total shit maniacs. The shit is done up tabloid style with some stories about murderers and local food eatery infractions (EASY STREET- ya’ll got mold in the ice maker?!)  Cop it at the Shell station on Hudson and 71. It’s only a dollar. It will be the best dollar you’ve spent since that Marshall Barnes suck and fuck in Weiland Park.

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Destroy Your Life: Resolution Edition

We here at Weedsteeler hq aka Black CNN-ville know our stuff. What’s good for 2010? We’re here to tell you about the future on some soothsayer type joint. Sit down, get illuminated and get completely dusted on 2010.

1. What to abandon? Indie rock. Yeah, we all want to pretend we have a yacht (V. Weekend), a dressed up lumber jack (G. Bear) or actually put an English degree to use (decemberists). Fraudulent. Ditch it before you get even more clowned on because you are already suspect. In 20 years, your shitty tit sucking kids are going to look at photos of your ass and clown on you. “DAD, you’re dressed like you’ve been getting your dick sucked by Gilligan backstage at a Jimmy Buffett concert.” Hey skipper, fuck off!  If you insist on that shit ‘stache, you should just become a cop or doing movies devoted to deep anal. Now’s the time.

2. Many males don’t have foreskin. Ever wonder what it’s like to fuck a bitch with it? http://manhood.mb.ca/ Get familiar. Do you want to die in 2012 and not know? Didn’t think so…

3. Get fat. There probably isn’t anything more gratifying than not giving a shit. Destroy your life. Get huge. Don’t work. Have a Jerry Springer special filmed about you. You’ll hear these fatso’s say being fat sucks and they don’t know what love is and they don’t have a life? Life is shit! Pizza is great! Is there a decision? I’ll see you at the buffet!

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