Women say flesh-eating drug scared them straight
By Frank Vaisvilas Correspondent October 15, 2013 10:40PM
Updated: November 17, 2013 6:33AM
JOLIET — The wounds on Amber Neitzel’s body aren’t going away easily. They were caused by unknowingly using the flesh-eating, knockoff heroin drug known on the street as Krokodil, and she says she’ll have to get a skin graft.
Neitzel, 26, and her sister Angela, 29, both of Lockport, said they were treated last week at Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet after injecting Krokodil. And their mother, Kim Neitzel, 48, thinks she inadvertently took the drug and she had to have dead skin removed in May.
The drug is thought to have surfaced in at least one patient in McHenry County, too. A doctor with Centegra Health System in Crystal Lake said in a news release Tuesday that doctors there are treating an IV drug user with large skin lesions that they think were caused by Krokodil.
Authorities are trying to find the source of the drug in the Chicago area but don’t yet have evidence of a larger problem.
The drug, which also is known as Crocodile, consists of codeine tablets mixed with gasoline, paint thinner, butane and other chemicals to create an injectable drug that destroys blood vessels, killing tissue near an injection point, said Dr. Abhin Singla, Saint Joseph’s director of addiction services. It causes gangrene, which results in scaly green skin from which the drug gets its name.
“You literally start rotting from the inside out. It’s a horrific way to get sick,” Singla said. “. . . Intensive treatment and skin grafts are required, but they are often not enough to save limbs or lives.”
He said the drug was first manufactured about a decade ago in Russia and is “about three times more potent than heroin, but the ‘high’ lasts only for a few hours.” A hit of Krokodil costs about $8 compared with $25 to $30 for heroin, he said.
Singla said three women and two men came to Saint Joseph last week after their wounds worsened. He declined to identify them, but the Neitzel sisters said they were among those patients.
Amber Neitzel thinks she first injected Krokodil in April 2011, but the resulting scar tissue was small — nowhere near the skin damage caused by recent doses. On her lower right leg, much of the skin is rotting and covered with blisters. She said she will have to go back to the hospital for a skin graft.
She said her experience with Krokodil has caused her to be clean for 21 days.
“I had $100 worth of heroin in my hand and threw it across the house,” Amber Neitzel said.
She thinks a lot more Krokodil has found its way into the Chicago area heroin supply in recent months. She said she knows about a dozen other people who have been affected recently by the drug.
Her sister, who’s also showing serious symptoms, and their mother began using heroin shortly after Amber did about 10 years ago. Now, the women are looking to stay clean and trying to spread the message about Krokodil to other heroin users.
Besides sharing their stories with local media, their experience has drawn interest from the international press.
“The one thing that I want to get across to the world is just because you don’t have a big sore on your leg like I do, just because you don’t have that does not mean that you’re not getting the drug. That means it’s rotting you from the inside out,” Amber Neitzel said.
“Please be aware of it. . . . Your life expectancy is two to three years if you continue to use,” she said. “If you’ve only been using this stuff for a year and a half, quit now and you can still save your life. You can. Don’t just give up because you think it’s too late. Cause it’s not. It’s your life.”