Chicago Area Krokodil Victims Describe Drug’s Horrifying Effects

They hope speaking out will inspire others to stop using.

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Krokodil victims in the Chicago area have started to speak out about the drug’s horrifying physical effects, as the flesh-eating concoction, which is similar to heroin and has been popularized in Russia, continues to appear throughout the U.S., including Arizona and Utah.

“It almost starts like a burn from a cigarette,” Amber Neitzel, 26, told ABC’s WLS-TV. “It starts purple and then goes into a blister after five or six days.”

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She and her sister Angie Neitzel, 29,  told the station they are two of five victims who have been treated at Presence St. Joseph Medical Center in Joilet, Illinois. They believe it’s possible that they have been injecting the drug into their bodies for more than a year, thinking it was heroin.

“Amber stopped shooting in her legs a little over a month ago, because it was making black spots everywhere,” their mother Kimberly Neitzel, also a heroin addict, told WBBM News Radio in a segment published Tuesday. She said Angie has just been released from the hospital after undergoing emergency surgery on her legs last week, while Amber is suffering gangrene infections in both legs and arms. Mail Online has published graphic photos of the injuries.

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Krokodil, which costs $8 per hit on the street, contains a mix of codeine, gasoline, paint thinner, and alcohol, that can cause abscesses and gangrene on the skin, making it look as scaly as that of crocodiles. Bones and muscle can be exposed as the drug eats away at the flesh, and users become susceptible to infections. Average life expectancy of krokodil users is two to three years, per TIME’s 2011 profile on the widespread use of the drug in Russia.

And while the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics investigates a possible link to the drug and the deaths of two men, the Neitzel family told the news outlets that they came forward about their experience to warn others to stay away from krokodil.

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