Krokodil Tears

Jan. 17, 2014

By Medical Discovery News

Don't do drugs

As if designer drugs and bath salts were not enough, now drug users have another substance to abuse. It’s called Krokodil, because it causes skin to turn green, bumpy, and scaly at the injection site, like a crocodile’s. And what it does inside the body is just as bad.

Use of this drug began in Russia in 2002, and by some estimates, there at least one million users. The chemical in Krokodil, desomorphine, was created in the U.S. in the 1930s as a less-addictive substitute for the painkiller morphine. However, the new drug also proved to be highly addictive and even more potent.

Krokodil and heroin are both opiates, but Krokodil is much cheaper, costing about one-tenth less than heroin, and less than one can of beer in Russia. It is becoming the drug of choice among heroin addicts, but withdrawal from Krokodil addiction is far worse and takes much longer.

The ingredients of Krokodil include codeine, gasoline, paint thinner, lighter fluid, and a few other ingredients that are readily available. It takes only about an hour in a kitchen to prepare the drug. Codeine is also an ingredient in other drugs and is no longer sold over the counter in the U.S. or Russia to curb the spread of these.

Users inject Krokodil into a vein, and the subsequent high begins in two to three minutes and lasts from 90 to 120 minutes. The first symptoms of addiction usually appear within five to 10 days. Death normally follows in two to three years, but a single dose can be lethal for a predisposed person.

The veins into which this drug is injected may be destroyed, leading to blockage of blood flow. If the drug is mistakenly injected into the skin, it will cause abscesses, which can degenerate the tissues and expose bone. Users and physicians both describe “rotting of the skin and flesh” that creates extensive sores especially on arms and legs. Treatment for these sores is intensive, often involving skin grafts. It is relatively common for Krokodil addicts to develop gangrene that requires amputation. Healing takes quite some time and it may take years before victims can do things like walk normally again. The few addicts who manage to recover are often disfigured for life. The acidic nature of the drug can lead to the deterioration of porous bones like those of the lower jaw. The drug can also lead to brain damage, speech impediments, poor motor skills, pneumonia, burst blood vessels in the heart, and meningitis. 

The first two known cases of Krokodil use in the U.S. were documented by a poison control center in Phoenix, Ariz., in September 2013, followed by additional reports in other places including Oklahoma, Illinois, Ohio, Utah, Mexico, and possibly New York. Some people think they are getting heroin and may not know that they are getting a cheaper, more toxic drug before becoming addicted to it. Officials fear this is only the beginning and that despite the warnings of its dangers, use will increase and with it, damage and death.

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High Altitude Sickness

June 21, 2013

By Medical Discovery News

For those visiting Denver or other mile-high cities, the incredible panoramic views may be overshadowed by headaches that worsen with higher altitudes. Such headaches are a common symptom of altitude sickness, but it is impossible to predict who will react to high altitudes and the severity of those symptoms. And now, research shows that serious altitude sickness may result in long-term brain damage.

Contrary to popular belief, the concentration of oxygen at higher altitudes is the same as sea level, about 21 percent. But the atmospheric pressure changes significantly, from 760 millimeters of mercury at sea level to only 410 millimeters of mercury at the top of Longs Peak in the Rocky Mountains. That 46 percent drop in pressure allows oxygen molecules to be spaced farther apart in the air. As a result, a person breathes in fewer oxygen molecules in each breath.

To compensate, the body breathes faster to take in more oxygen molecules and maintain blood oxygen levels. But this adjustment generally takes one to three days, which explains why the No. 1 cause of altitude sickness is going too high too fast. Then the body can’t keep healthy oxygen levels and the amount of oxygen in the body lowers, called hypoxia. This can cause fluid to leak from small blood vessels called capillaries and accumulate in the lungs and the brain. While some cases of altitude sickness end with headaches, the added stress on the lungs, heart, and arteries can lead to serious consequences, including death.

When fluid continues to leak into the brain, an incredibly dangerous condition known as high altitude cerebral edema (HACE) can develop. Symptoms include inhibited mental function, hallucinations, loss of coordination, impaired speech, personality changes, nausea, and coma. The only treatment options are to move the person to lower altitude (10,000 feet or less) or put them in a high-oxygen hyperbaric chamber. Doctors used to believe that once treated, patients fully recovered.

However, a new study looked at brain scans of 36 mountain climbers and found several small blood vessels leaking into brain tissue in eight of the 10 climbers with earlier cases of HACE. Only two of the other 26 climbers without previous case of HACE had similar leaks, called microhemorrhages. This shows that a person’s chance of developing mircohemorrages probably increases with HACE. The severity of the hemorrhages correlated to the severity of the climber’s HACE. It’s unclear if more time in high altitudes affects the lesions or what their long-term consequences may be.

Earlier studies showed that almost every MRI of a Mt. Everest climber showed evidence of brain damage. Even amateur climbers, climbers of lesser altitudes, and climbers with no symptoms of altitude sickness showed some sign of brain damage. The damage was still evident years later, even if the climber no longer went to high altitudes.

This recent finding has raised many questions; for example, do HACE victims have an increased incidence of developing dementia or other neurological disorders?  More studies are necessary to verify the results of long-term changes to the brain as a result of high altitudes and HACE. Mountain climbers need to be aware of these risks before they pursue that next peak.

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