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Krokodil to present special problems for treatment centers

Updated: November 17, 2013 6:34AM



Substance abuse treatment centers will face more challenges in providing care for users of the potent and dangerous street drug known as Krokodil, according to Pete McLenighan, executive director of the Stepping Stones Treatment Center.

McLenighan worries that the devastating health effects of the synthetic opiate could limit the programs available to someone seeking help.

Krokodil, also called Crocodile, is an injectible combination of codeine, gasoline, butane, paint thinner and other chemicals. While cheaper and more potent than heroin, it destroys the tissue around the injection point, leading to gangrene and damaging limbs. The skin develops a scaly green appearance, from which the drug’s name is derived.

“It certainly complicates (recovery) from a medical treatment standpoint,” McLenighan said. “We’d have to first determine if someone could be adequately treated in a non-hospital setting (like ours).”

He said Stepping Stones doctors and nurses regularly work with medical staff at St. Joseph Medical Center and Silver Cross Hospital when setting up recovery programs. But whether living at the treatment center or being an outpatient, a “vast majority” of the addicts treated at Stepping Stones don’t need hospitalization, he said.

“We try to find a way to provide services for people with medical conditions, but (use of Krokodil) it would limit treatment options,” McLenighan said.

He said Stepping Stones staffers have spent the last week “learning about Krokodil like everybody else.” They were aware it has existed in Russia for the last decade but were surprised that it had reached the Chicago area.

Three women and two men who thought they were injecting heroin sought treatment for their wounds last week at St. Joseph.

“We’ve all been emailing (your newspaper’s) stories and other reports with our colleagues,” McLenighan said, adding that no one has sought treatment for using the drug at Stepping Stones.

The only known cases so far in Will County are those reported at St. Joseph “as far as we know,” county health department spokesman Vic Reato said.

“We don’t really know what we are facing. How widespread it is is difficult to know,” Reato said, explaining that the department has no direct way of tracking it. “We are very concerned. It is very debilitating, like heroin.”

He said it became an epidemic in Russia because heroin is hard to get there.

“That’s not the issue here,” Reato said. “Heroin is easier to get than the codeine it takes to make Krokodil.”

Silver Cross Hospital spokeswoman Karen Helman said no cases have been reported at the New Lenox hospital.

Calls to Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn and to Ingalls, St. James and Edward hospitals were not returned.

Contributing: Susan DeMar Lafferty



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