Ukraine urban blight (gray)

Reddit digs into Russia's drug epidemic


As the community on social news site Reddit expands, the odds are always increasing that you won’t just find people who can comment on events—you’ll find people with firsthand knowledge of the subject at hand.

Last week, The Independent, a British newspaper, published a harrowing piece on the rise of a drug called krokodil in Russia. Made from over-the-counter codeine pills, krokodil is similar in effect but many times as powerful as heroin. It’s also a poison, causing users’ flesh to essentially rot off their bodies.

And it’s wreaking havoc on Russia’s youth, the article reported.

The story made its way around the Internet. But on Reddit, where links to stories are often accompanied by intense discussions propagated by the site’s 18.8 million monthly visitors, it found new context.

Ilya Demidov, a Ukrainian land surveyor who lives in a small town near the Russian border, posted a comment in the news thread.

The drug and others, he said, was destroying towns like his:

“They cook not only the shit this article about. Coffein-related pills, sedatives etc. They boil it in dirty beer cans, spoons, and injects with 3 years in use pump. Drug store will sell all kind of prohibited drugs without prescription at any time. They die, they rot, and maybe worse.”

Demidov’s comment quickly shot to the top of the thread. And in no time redditors were asking Demidov to conduct a full question and answer session elsewhere on the site.

To verify his identity, we asked Demidov, whose reddit username is botj, to show us a scanned version of his Ukrainian passport, which he provided. Searches on Google Images and TinEye, a search engine which tries to find matches to an image you upload, came up with no other versions of the image.

The conversation moved to its own thread and, soon, curious redditors were peppering Demidov with question. The thread spawned 1,255 comments in total.

“How obvious is it? Can you just walk down the street and see users or is it more underground?” asked nadroj3991.

“They crawl out in night, when drug shop is more opened to illegal trades,” Demidov replied. “They spend most of time at their places. Like they mentioned in the article, this is a new drug, so we don't see zombies with exposed bones yet. But there is no secret to everyone, where you can find the junkies flat.”

“What is the craziest thing you have seen there?” asked Franzuu.

“If somebody died on the street, nobody cares,” Demidov replied. “Yesterday some sick guy bruised his girlfriend right under my windows in the middle of the day. She screamed for help for about an half hour. I tried to yell on the guy to stop him, but he didn't give a shit.”

The discussion brought dozens of questions and answers -- including some from other redditors from Russia. It even branched into a second thread where Demidov created a slideshow of images from his town.

So while ordinary readers of The Independent were treated to a edifying piece of investigative journalism, redditors took the story one step further: They became part of the conversation.

Or as Demidov wrote when he opened his thread: “If you want to know something that you will never see on TV—you can ask me.”