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Systematic (IUPAC) name
Clinical data
Trade names Permonid
Legal status Prohibited (S9) (AU) Class A (UK) Schedule I (US)
Dependence liability Very High
CAS number 427-00-9 7pxN
ATC code None
PubChem CID 5362456
ChemSpider 4515044 7pxY
UNII 7OP86J5E33 7pxY
ChEMBL CHEMBL2106274 7pxN
Synonyms Desomorphine, Dihydrodesoxymorphine, Permonid
Chemical data
Formula C17H21NO2 
Mol. mass 271.354 g/mol
 14pxN (what is this?)  (verify)

Desomorphine (dihydrodesoxymorphine, former brand name Permonid, street name krokodil) is a derivative of morphine with powerful, fast-acting opioid effects, such as sedation and analgesia.[1][2][3][4] First synthesized in 1932 and patented in 1934,[5] desomorphine was used in Switzerland under the brand name Permonid[6] and was described as having a fast onset and a short duration of action, with relatively little nausea or respiratory depression compared to equivalent doses of morphine. Dose-by-dose it is eight to ten times more potent than morphine.[7]

Desomorphine is derived from morphine where the 6-hydroxyl group and the 7,8 double bond have been reduced.[5] The traditional synthesis of desomorphine starts from α-chlorocodide, which is itself obtained by reacting thionyl chloride with codeine. By catalytic reduction, α-chlorocodide gives dihydrodesoxycodeine, which yields desomorphine on demethylation.[8][9]

Medical uses

It was previously used in Switzerland for the treatment of severe pain; although for many years up to 1981, when its use was terminated, it was being used to treat a single person in Bern, Switzerland with a rare illness.[10]

Abuse liability

Test subjects were subjected to desomorphine intake. The completed tests on animal subjects produced results that contrast desomorphine to morphine. Compared to morphine, the results show increased toxicity, more potent relief of pain, higher levels of depression, increased respiration, and increased digestive activity. Early medical trials of humans taking desomorphine have resulted in the finding that small amounts are highly addictive. As of 2013, there are no legal uses of desomorphine in the U.S., where it has been a Schedule 1 controlled substance since 1936.[11]


Desomorphine typically has large amounts of toxic substances due to it being "cooked" and used without any significant effort to remove the byproducts and leftovers from synthesis. Injecting any such mixture can cause serious damage of the skin, blood vessels, bone and muscles, sometimes requiring limb amputation in long-term users.[7] Causes of this damage are from iodine and phosphorus (and other toxic substances) that are present after synthesis. The large volume of tissue damage/infection is what gained the drug its nickname of the flesh-eating drug.[12] Gangrene, phlebitis, thrombosis (blood clots), pneumonia, meningitis, septicaemia (blood infection), rotting bones, osteomyelitis (bone infection), liver & kidney damage, brain damage and HIV are also common amongst users of desomorphine.[13] Sometimes, the user will miss the vein when injecting the desomorphine, creating abscess and causing death of the flesh surrounding the entry-point.[7]

Physical and chemical properties

Desomorphine has a molecular weight of 271.35 g/mol and three salts are used: hydrobromide (free-base conversion ratio 0.770), hydrochloride (0.881) and sulfate (0.802).[14] Its freebase form is slightly soluble in water (1.425 g/L at 25 °C), although its salts are very water soluble; its freebase form is also very soluble in most polar organic solvents (like acetone, ethanol and ethyl acetate).[7] Its melting point is 189°C.[7] It has a pKa of 9.69.[7]

Desomorphine is made from codeine mixed with other substances. The codeine is retrieved from over-the-counter medicine and is then mixed with alcohol, gasoline, red phosphorus, iodine, hydrochloric acid and paint thinner.[7] Toxic nitrogen oxides fumes emerge from the drug when heated.[15]


Desomorphine was first synthesised in the U.S. in 1932 and patented on November 13, 1934.[10] In Russia, desomorphine was declared an illegal narcotic analgesic in 1998. However, while codeine-containing drugs generally have been prescription products in Europe, in Russia they were sold freely over-the-counter until June 2012.[16] The number of users in Russia was estimated to have reached around one million at the peak of the drug's popularity.[17]

Society and culture

Recreational use

Desomorphine abuse in Russia attracted international attention in 2010 due to an increase in clandestine production, presumably due to its relatively simple synthesis from codeine available over-the-counter. Abuse of homemade desomorphine was first reported in Siberia in 2003 when Russia started a major crackdown on heroin production and trafficking, but has since spread throughout Russia and the neighboring former Soviet republics.[18]

The drug can be made from codeine and iodine derived from OTC medications and red phosphorus from match strikers,[19] in a process similar to the manufacture of methamphetamine from pseudoephedrine. Like methamphetamine, desomorphine made this way is often contaminated with various agents. The street name in Russia for homemade desomorphine is krokodil (Russian: крокодил, crocodile), possibly related to the chemical name of the precursor α-chlorocodide, or similarity of a skin, damaged by the drug use, to crocodile leather.[10] Due to difficulties in procuring heroin, combined with easy and cheap access to over-the-counter pharmacy products containing codeine in Russia, use of krokodil has increased.[13] It has been estimated that around 100,000 people use krokodil in Russia and around 20,000 in Ukraine.[13] One death in Poland in December 2011 was also believed to have been caused by krokodil use, and its use has been confirmed among Russian expatriate communities in a number of other European countries.[20]

Western media coverage

The media in the U.S. and Canada have brought awareness to desomorphine. There have been incidents reported where desomorphine had supposedly been present within either country but all incidents have not been confirmed by any drug-testing reports.[21]

Street prices

In 2011, a study showed that 120 Rubles worth of desomorphine is enough to equal 500 Rubles worth of heroin.[12]


  1. Casy, Alan F.; Parfitt, Robert T. (1986). Opioid analgesics: chemistry and receptors. New York: Plenum Press. p. 32. ISBN 978-0-306-42130-3. 
  2. Bognar, R; Makleit, S (1958). "Neue Methode für die Vorbereitung von dihydro-6-desoxymorphine" [New method for the preparation of dihydro-6-desoxymorphine]. Arzneimittel-Forschung (in German) 8 (6): 323–5. PMID 13546093. 
  3. Janssen, Paul A. J. (1962). "A Review of the Chemical Features Associated with Strong Morphine-Like Activity". British Journal of Anaesthesia 34 (4): 260–8. PMID 14451235. doi:10.1093/bja/34.4.260. 
  4. Sargent, Lewis J.; May, Everette L. (1970). "Agonists-antagonists derived from desomorphine and metopon". Journal of Medicinal Chemistry 13 (6): 1061–3. PMID 4098039. doi:10.1021/jm00300a009. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 US patent 1980972, Lyndon Frederick Small, "Morphine Derivative and Processes", published 1934-19-07, issued 1934-13-11 
  6. "Krokodil". New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 Katselou, M; Papoutsis, I; Nikolaou, P; Spiliopoulou, C; Athanaselis, S (May 2014). "A "Krokodil" emerges from the murky waters of addiction. Abuse trends of an old drug.". Life Sciences 102 (2): 81–87. PMID 24650492. doi:10.1016/j.lfs.2014.03.008. 
  8. Mosettig, Erich; Cohen, Frank L.; Small, Lyndon F. (1932). "Desoxycodeine Studies. III. The Constitution of the So-Called α-Dihydrodesoxycodeine: Bis-Dihydrodesoxycodeine". Journal of the American Chemical Society 54 (2): 793–801. doi:10.1021/ja01341a051. 
  9. Eddy, Nathan B.; Howes, Homer A. (1935). "Studies of Morphine, Codeine and their Derivatives X. Desoxymorphine-C, Desoxycodeine-C and their Hydrogenated Derivatives". Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics 55 (3): 257–67. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Gahr, M; Freudenmann, RW; Hiemke, C; Gunst, IM; Connemann, BJ; Schönfeldt-Lecuona, C (2012). "Desomorphine goes "crocodile".". Journal of Addictive Diseases 31 (4): 407–12. PMID 23244560. doi:10.1080/10550887.2012.735570. 
  11. "DESOMORPHINE (Dihydrodesoxymorphine; dihydrodesoxymorphine-D; Street Name: Krokodil, Crocodil". Drug Enforcement Administration. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 "Desomorphine (Krokodil) Basics". Erowid. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Grund JP, Latypov A, Harris M (2013). "Breaking worse: The emergence of krokodil and excessive injuries among people who inject drugs in Eurasia". International Journal of Drug Policy 24 (4): 265–274. PMID 23726898. doi:10.1016/j.drugpo.2013.04.007. 
  14. "Permonid". PubChem Compound. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved 5 May 2014. 
  15. "Desomorphine". Specialized Information Services. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  16. Берсенева А. (23 June 2011). "Без рецепта не обезболят". Retrieved 12 January 2014. 
  17. "Krokodil". New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  18. Gahr, M; Freudenmann, C; Hiemke, C; Gunst, IM; Connemann, BJ; Schönfeldt-Lecuona, Carlos (2012). "Desomorphine goes "crocodile"". Journal of Addictive Diseases 31 (4): 407–12. PMID 23244560. doi:10.1080/10550887.2012.735570. 
  19. Savchuk, S. A.; Barsegyan, S. S.; Barsegyan, I. B.; Kolesov, G. M. (2011). "Chromatographic study of expert and biological samples containing desomorphine". Journal of Analytical Chemistry 63 (4): 361–70. doi:10.1134/S1061934808040096. 
  20. Skowronek R, Celiński R, Chowaniec C (2012). ""Crocodile" – new dangerous designer drug of abuse from the East". Clinical Toxicology 50 (4): 269. PMID 22385107. doi:10.3109/15563650.2012.660574. 
  21. No Confirmed Reports of Desomorphine ( "Krokodil" / "Crocodile" ) in Canada. Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. November 21, 2013. ISBN 978-1-77178-052-0. 
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