HIV and injecting ‘krokodile’

Krokodile Injectors in Ukraine: fueling the HIV Epidemic?

Booth RE, Davis JM, Brewster JT, Lisovska O, Dvoryak S. AIDS Behav. 2016 Feb;20(2):369-76. doi: 10.1007/s10461-015-1008-z.

This study was designed to assess the characteristics of krokodile injectors, a recent phenomenon in Ukraine, and HIV-related risk factors among people who inject drugs (PWID). In three Ukraine cities, Odessa, Donetsk and Nikolayev, 550 PWID were recruited between December 2012 and October 2013 using modified targeted sampling methods. The sample averaged 31 years of age and they had been injecting for over 12 years. Overall, 39% tested positive for HIV, including 45% of krokodile injectors. In the past 30 days, 25% reported injecting krokodile. Those who injected krokodile injected more frequently (p < 0.001) and they injected more often with others (p = 0.005). Despite knowing their HIV status to be positive, krokodile users did not reduce their injection frequency, indeed, they injected as much as 85% (p = 0.016) more frequently than those who did not know their HIV status or thought they were negative. This behavior was not seen in non-krokodile using PWID. Although only a small sample of knowledgeable HIV positive krokodile users was available (N = 12), this suggests that krokodile users may disregard their HIV status more so than non-krokodile users. In spite of widespread knowledge of its harmful physical consequences, a growing number of PWID are turning to injecting krokodile in Ukraine. Given the recency of krokodile use in the country, the associated higher frequency of injecting, a propensity to inject more often with others, and what could be a unique level of disregard of HIV among krokodile users, HIV incidence could increase in future years.

Abstract access [1]

Editor’s notes: This is an important study among a highly vulnerable population of people who inject drugs where HIV prevalence has been consistently high over the last decade. This is one of the first empirical studies to examine the role of krokodile use on HIV risk acquisition. Krokodile is a home produced drug that has become more popular among people who inject drugs in Ukraine and the Russian Federation over the last five years. There is a long history of injection with home-produced opioids and amphetamines in these countries. The key component of krokodile is codeine, an opioid, but severe side effects have been associated with its injection including tissue damage, gangrene and organ failure. This study highlights some of the characteristics and HIV risk behaviours associated with krokodile injection to inform appropriate HIV prevention programming. Findings note that people who inject krokodile are more likely to inject with others. This reflects the home-produced nature of the drug that facilitates more group injecting as people congregate at places where it is produced to buy and inject. Programmes need to focus on strategies to avoid injecting with other people’s used injecting equipment, such as marking equipment, as can happen in group injecting scenarios. This programme would ensure there are sufficient numbers of clean needles/syringes in circulation. Worryingly, a higher prevalence of HIV was observed among people who inject krokodile, most likely associated with their older age and more frequent injecting. Targeted harm reduction information is urgently needed for krokodile users to prevent further HIV transmission and prevent soft tissue damage. There is already a large network of needle-syringe programmes and opioid substitution therapy available for people who inject drugs in Ukraine. However, access is often reduced since people who inject drugs are concerned about being arrested. Registration as a person who injects drugs causes problems with employment, families and police. Collaboration with the police is necessary to increase access to opioid substitution and needle and syringe programmes. Programmes are also required to reduce the stigma associated with injection in order to address the health needs of this population. 

Europe [12]
Ukraine [13]
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