PHOENIX, Sept 26 (Reuters) - A dangerous flesh-eating narcotic known as "Krokodil," or crocodile, in Russia where it emerged more than a decade ago may have made its first appearance in the United States, medical experts in Arizona said on Thursday.
Toxicologists at the Banner Good Samaritan Poison and Drug Information Center in Phoenix say they have been consulted on a "handful of cases" of patients suspected of abusing Krokodil, so-called for the scaly and green appearance of sores that form on the user's skin.
Abuse of the home-made narcotic was first reported in middle and eastern Siberia in 2002, but has since spread throughout Russia and the neighboring former Soviet republics, according to medical reports. The new suspected cases, if confirmed, would be among the first recorded in the United States.
The cheap and highly addictive opiate is typically prepared in an injectable form by cooking up codeine with caustic chemicals including hydrochloric acid and turpentine, which rot the flesh, leaving bone and muscle tissue exposed, doctors say.
Banner Health said its toxicologists have consulted with doctors caring for a "handful" of critically ill patients in the Phoenix area who are suspected of having used Krokodil.
Dr. Frank LoVecchio, co-medical director at Banner Good Samaritan Poison and Drug Information Center, said he believes the cases are "among the first" to be reported in the United States.
"What we read about in Russia ... is that it is very, very addictive, much in the same way heroin is addictive .... but it is much, much cheaper. You get much more bang for your buck," LoVecchio told Reuters.
"What is catastrophic is what happens to your skin. What is catastrophic is what happens to the insides of you. It dissolves people's fat and dissolves people's muscle tissue," LoVecchio said.
While the Poison Center has not confirmed the abuse of Krokodil in the cases, toxicologists are concerned because they say this is often the way they first hear that a drug is being used in the area.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration does not include Krokodil among its online list of drugs of abuse, which includes cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana.
A request for comment on the suspected emergence of Krokodil in Arizona made to the DEA's field office in Phoenix was not returned on Thursday. (Reporting by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Bob Burgdorfer)