The drug, known as “crocodile,” is synthesized from codeine and has been commonly used by as a substitute for heroin in Russia for the last few years. But its effects are much worse – some users have their skin peel off and parts of their bodies become gangrenous.
After they begin using, addicts typically have a life expectancy of just a few years.
Until now, police haven't been worried about its spread in Germany, but authorities in the western city of Bochum said at least four homeless people have recently experienced symptoms associated with crocodile use.
All believed they had been using heroin, according to Heinrich Elsner, a doctor at an organization serving drug addicts called Crisis Assistance Bochum.
But he said they suffered the “catastrophic skin and soft tissue damage” that only crocodile causes.
The organization is offering to wean addicts off drugs through methadone treatments, though it is not yet clear if the physical damage is reversible.
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Police, who admitted there was a “huge uproar” in Bochum's drug scene over the situation, said an investigation has been launched.