Drug peddlers in South Africa have introduced a new deadly drug whose ingredients contain life-prolonging antiretrovirals for people infected with HIV, a move that health experts claim could jeopardies ARV stocks.
The drug known as “whoonga” is a blend of detergent powder, rat poison and crushed up ARVs drugs distributed free to HIV sufferers. The composition, a fine white powder, is added to marijuana and smoked. Reports say that addicts believe that ARV increase marijuana potency.
The drug has become an instant hit in townships, particularly Durban, due to the fact that the effect of whoonga costs a user a paltry sum of 20 South African rand or $3 and its effect can last for a whole day.
And Local media reports say the whoonga craze has sparked a new level of lawlessness in the crime-ridden country and also caused panic among drug and health experts saying with South Africa finally making inroads in the battle against HIV and Aids after years of denialism, this is a dreadful blow.
Anti-drug abuse organization Sanca says President Jacob Zuma shouldn’t be too quick to state that ARVs are not one of the components of the highly addictive drug whoonga, after Zuma said at an alcohol summit in Durban on March 14 that tests have shown that ARVs aren’t one of the ingredients used in the lethal concoction.
Sanca spokesperson, Carol du Toit, is quoted saying that while the samples tested might not have contained ARVs, they have seen cases that show otherwise.
Said du Toit: “Even though some of the whoonga does not contain ARVs, there are still people – for example those presenting for treatment to us – that whoonga does contain ARVs and that they are still are adding ARVs to some of the whoonga mixtures”
AIDS activists blame the media for creating an artificial demand for HIV treatment from people “who now incorrectly believe it creates a high”. And Alex Morrison, an activist, says the effects of smoking ARVs remain doubtful as “drugs like ARVs are more easily absorbed into the body when taken orally rather than when smoked.”
“I am very worried about the perception that is created that ARVs give you another high, so that’s why people are going and stealing ARVs and selling them … creating a market for it. And we should correct that. It does not give you a high” Alex Morrison is quoted saying.
South African media have in the recent past reported on high incidents of ARV thefts at various health facilities with speculation being that those behind some of these incidents may have intended to sell the drugs for recreational use.
Although reports say, there’s no evidence that antiretroviral drugs such as Stocrin create a high, criminals are robbing AIDS patients of life-saving drugs as they leave clinics for the manufacture Whoonga.
But some, according to reports, are willing to sell the free ARVs now believed to be of high economic value.
“What is more worrying is that whoonga addicts now seek to become HIV positive, because then they’ll get their supply for free” Morrison added.