Whoonga craze sweeps across South Africa

The street drug called
“whoonga” is a cocktail that includes the anti retroviral (ARV)
medication prescribed to people with HIV.

Demand for the substance has
prompted a wave of thefts of AIDS drugs across the country.

Users crush the ARVs and smoke them
with a mixture of rat poison, detergent and marijuana to get high.

The powder is said to be so
addictive that users are hooked within days.

“If I don’t smoke it, I get
pains and I can’t sleep until I get some more,” 31-year-old Jomo said, his
eyes red and glazed after a few deep drags on a joint.

He and his fellow whoonga addicts
huddled in the grounds of a church in one of Durban’s side streets, smoke up to
thirty “packets” of the drug every day at a cost of almost $160.

“I just rob people to get the
money. I don’t have a job, this is all I do,” Jomo said, rolling another

“I sell my body to get
whoonga,” a young woman said with a shrug.

In the back streets of Durban,
whoonga dealers tout the powder about $4.26 per packet.

The highly toxic drug has been
blamed for the deaths of scores of addicts across South Africa over the past
year and has fuelled a spate of thefts of AIDS medication.

In the township of Umlazi, near
Durban, officials say dozens of patients are being robbed of their
anti-retroviral drugs every week.

However, the country’s Treatment
Action Campaign, an AIDS lobbying group, has described the belief that the
drugs have recreational value as a “myth.”

Group spokeswoman Caroline Nenguke
said: “We are not even convinced that whoonga contains ARVs. The dealers
just say it does.”