The insidious mystery drug from Russia, Krokodil, has now been documented by civilians and doctors in the U.S., Mexico, and Ukraine, killing users from the inside out.

Amber and Angie Neitzel, residents of Joliet, Illinois,  are known heroin addicts. They are also the poster children of the most insidious drug on the market. They and their mother had used heroin for over a decade when they started to notice strange symptoms –  like cigarette burns – but they didn’t think anything of it. Amber thought she had bought heroin and gotten a deal, not injected the flesh-eating drug, Krokodil.

Originally from Russia, Krokodil is a synthetic, homemade heroin. It is from codeine, hydrochloric acid, red phosphorous, iodine, paint thinner, lighter fluid and gasoline. Recipes are available on the internet and Jen Christensen, CNN Health,  reports cooking Krokodil is similar to making meth. The relatively cheap and readily available components are cooked down into a liquid and injected into the user’s body.

While the high doesn’t last as long as heroin’s does, it mimics the effect of methamphetamine. Users may turn Krokodil not for lack of real heroin, but because they have ran out of the money to buy it. A hit of heroin will cost around $25-$30 but a hit of Krokodil will cost $8. Like a McDonald’s hamburger, Krokodil is not popular because it is good. It is popular because it is cheap and available.

This new and cheap drug has not affected the heroin market. The growing popularity of Krokodil is allowing a different socioeconomic class access to a knock-off heroin. Only the lower class has been associated with the drug. Those with monetary means are able to buy real heroin and not run the risk of Krokodil’s grisly side effects.

Aptly labeled the flesh-eating zombie drug, Krokodil has gruesome side effects. “Severe mutilations, rotting gums, bone infections, decayed structure of the jaw and facial bones, sores and ulcers on the forehead and skull as well as rotting ears, noses and lips and liver and kidney problems…” reports Christensen, as being seen after the repeated use. But even after just one hit, a Krokodil user will find their injection point black and blistered.

That’s how the drug got it’s name – “Krokodil” means crocodile in Russian – the inject point becomes gray or green and scaly, like the skin of a crocodile. The flesh around the injection point becomes necrotic. There is no known way to reverse the side effects of even on use of Krokodil.

The terrifying and decaying nature of Krokodil has caused it to be negatively associated in popular culture. Matthew Hendley of the Phoenix New Times says, “If you’ve ever seen pictures of Krokodil users, they make meth-heads look like beauty-pageant winners.” Twitter users frequently use the hashtags #krokodil and #dontgoogleimageit together.

That is good advice to follow. A Bing or Google image search will quickly display pictures of rotten flesh hanging off of bones, black cigarette-like burns covering users bodies and lesions that look like a person has been cooked alive. The photos do reinforce the stigma of the drug’s side effects. Condescendingly referred to as Zombies, repeated users are demeaned even among circles of drug addicts.

Krokodil has not stayed isolated in Russia. Since its first recorded use in 2002, its effects have been seen in Siberia, Ukraine, the U.S. and Mexico. However, the drug itself remains elusive. The Drug Enforcement Administration of the U.S. has not been able to recover any form of Krokodil despite it’s obvious presence on users bodies. There have been no confirmed cases of Krokodil by the DEA in the U.S.

 The DEA has been criticized for this, conspiracy theorists saying that the government does not want to deal with the insidious drug and is not finding or confirming the use of Krokodil on purpose. One thing is for sure, it will be harder for the FDA to disregard this problem.

“Krokodil victims,” those who claim they paid for heroin and were instead sold Krokodile, are popping up all over the U.S. and Mexico. The highest concentrations in the U.S. are in Phoenix, Arizona, Columbus, Ohio, Duncan Oklahoma and Joliet, Illinois. A Joliet hospital has confirmed five dead patients with symptoms of Krokodil–however, it was not claimed the cause of death.

The most widely known Krokodil victim, Amber Neitzel, is using what is left of her rotting body as a plea for heroin addicts to be careful. Though she has no regrets, “I know it was good, I’m not going to lie,” Neitzel told Joliet Patch, she urges heroin addicts to know what they are paying for.