Most of the rose tattooed on Amber Neitzel’s left calf has rotted off, but she knows the damage could have been much worse for her if she hadn’t been treated for the flesh-eating drug she said caused the gaping, rank wounds on her body.
“I was doing this drug for a year and a half and didn’t even know it,” said Neitzel, who along with her sister, Angie Neitzel, say they were the first to be treated for the horror-movie drug "crocodile” at Joliet’s Presence St. Joseph Medical Center.
Amber Neitzel, 26, said she has been doing heroin for 10 years. She, her 29-year-old sister and their mother, Kim Neitzel, 48, another heroin user, said they went public to alert others to the dangers of crocodile.
"If you don’t got sores on the outside of your body, it don’t mean it don’t got a hold of you," Kim Neitzel warned. "It’s going after your organs."
Crocodile is a heroin substitute concocted by combining codeine tablets and gasoline, paint thinner, lighter fluid or other substances. It ravages the skin of users, according to a press release from St. Joseph’s.
The drug "destroys a user’s flesh and leaves gangrene and large abscesses all over a user's body," the release stated.
“You get it from users in the city,” said Amber, who along with her sister and mother told of buying what they believed to be heroin in Chicago. Kim Neitzel said she herself was stricken by crocodile without knowing but underwent surgery. Months after the procedure, she remains disfigured.
Presence Health spokeswoman Angela Benander could not be reached immediately for comment on whether any of the Neitzels were treated at St. Joseph.
Crocodile only recently appeared in Illinois, with five known patients going to Joliet’s St. Joseph.
The drug, also spelled krokodil, “originally appeared in Russia in 2003, where availability and distribution of heroin is problematic,” the hospital’s release said. “In the past few weeks, cases have been reported in Utah and Arizona. The patients admitted to PSJMC are the first known cases in Illinois.”
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency is still trying to track down the supposed source of crocodile in Illinois.
“The DEA is very concerned about the recent news that several patients who were treated at Presence St. Joseph Medical Center in Joliet had symptoms consistent with the use of the drug" crocodile, Jack Riley, special agent-in-charge of the DEA's Chicago Field Division, said in a recent statement.
"Our agents and task force officers are on the street canvassing the area, and trying to track down any leads," Riley said. "We want to be pro-active and get out ahead of the curve on this, but until we can get our hands on the drugs and people who are trafficking in it, we won’t know the extent of what we’re dealing with."
None of the Neitzels suspected they were shooting a Russian knock-off drug instead of the heroin they have used for years. But the intense high from what they were buying made it seem like a bargain.
“I know it was good,” Amber Neitzel said. “I’m not going to lie. I’ve sold (heroin) before. I wouldn’t buy it if it wasn’t good.”