By Charissa Sparks
Published November 23, 2010
A new, highly addictive drug whose addiction begins after the first try leaving many users in debt and family members anxious for a solution, has arrived in townships surrounding the city of Durban in South Africa.
Whoonga, usually smoked, is a mixture of various substances including HIV medications called anti-retrovirals (ARVs), rat poison, and detergent. The drug is said to be one of the most addictive in the world; users can become hooked after the first try and often experience withdrawal symptoms after the first hit.
“Most people find it hard to believe that one smoke is all it takes and you are hooked,” Gwala Vumani, Director of Project Whoonga says. “Due to lack of unemployment and lack of skills and positive projects, South African youth find themselves doing nothing. This allows them time to experiment with new drugs such as Whoonga.”
After taking the drugs, individuals become anxious and aggressive, and may suffer from various pains including but not limited to back pain, excessive sweating, headache and potentially deadly stomach cramps. However, Vumani says, all symptoms can be cured by a single dose every time.
RELATED: A Somali Symphony
Each dose costs about US$3, and individuals addicted to the drug require about six doses every day. This is a high price to pay in South Africa where 40 percent of the people live on less than US$2 a day.
Finding the pain associated with Whoonga unbearable, Vumani says, users without money resort to committing petty crimes to feed their addiction.
Clair Savage, senior information officer at SANCA, saysthat all drug dependents become focused on getting the high the drug gives them and relationships, work, and other interests are severely affected.
Although lives of users are being taken over by Whoonga, people find it difficult to quit because of the pains that come with ending use. Lack of information about Whoonga has resulted in more and more people engaging themselves without realising what they are getting themselves into.
There are varying experiences when taking Whoonga, but those who use it say they feel like the best people ever. Others feel at peace, and some reported it helped them sleep. While these may be the initial reasons to begin taking the drug, the withdrawal seems to be so severe that the unpleasantness is what keeps them using it again and again.
“This drug has turned our beloved township into a jungle. Families with addicts live in constant fear of vigilantes that threaten to get rid of this crime using violence and families have got their homes burned down,” Vumani says.
It is tragic that the communities most affected by this abuse are also trying to deal with the challenges of unemployment, poverty, and HIV/AIDS,Â Savage says. “I am concerned about the emotional toll that drug abuse exacts as well as challenges and these folk may lack the resources to significantly change what is happening.”
While the drug became popular only about a year ago, authorities believe users have increased by thousands in the past year and use is likely to spread without intervention.
Saying Whoonga is a huge setback in the fight against HIV/AIDS,Vumani adds that Project Whoonga is focused on ending the use of the drug. Project Whoonga thus helps identify, motivate, and rehabilitate users and reintegrate them back into the community.
Without more projects geared toward youth and opportunities for education and school building, young people in Durban are likely to continue experimenting with drugs as a way to pass the time. The future of these young people lies in the hands of community leaders and their attention to the seriousness of the situation.
A MediaGlobal Article