Nyaope – Drug that sends future up in smoke

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Home Detox South Africa Director Grant Allman was recently featured in The Sunday Star (31 August 2015) in relation to Nyaope. The article “Drug that sends future up in smoke” can be found below. Taken from Sunday Star 31/08/15. The original article is on this external website.

Nyaope – Sunday Star Article

Sameer Naik and Rabbie Serumula look on as a group of nyaope addicts take the substance and tell their stories.

Nyaope Johannesburg – Sibusiso “Spotja” knows he is out of control, on a downward spiral. He’s lost friends, a girlfriend, his young son (his mother won’t allow him to see the child), his possessions and his self-respect. He’s lost that because he doesn’t care what he has to do to feed his addiction to the street drug nyaope.

On a Thursday afternoon, while most people are at work, Spotja sits in a backroom shack in Tladi, Soweto. He’s waiting for his crew. And he’s jumpy.

It’s been an hour since the 27-year-old had his last fix and he looks through the dusty window of the shack to see if relief is coming.

Eventually, his friends arrive. They greet and one hands him three tiny blue parcels containing nyaope. It’s dark in the shack. The only light is from a candle.

Spotja tears open one of the blue packets and pours a brownish-white powder on to a piece of broken glass. He takes another piece and begins rubbing them together. He is making the nyaope powder as fine as possible before they smoke it.

Once the powder is ready, Spotja hands it over to one of his friends, who laces a dagga joint with the nyaope. Spotja uses the candle to light it and takes a long drag.

“It makes me feel like I am on the moon,” he says.

He has been smoking nyaope for more than nine years.

The drug, which first emerged in South Africa around 2000, has destroyed the lives of many people and their families. It is a crude concoction of low-grade heroin, cut with products like baby powder and flour. There are widespread myths that nyaope joints also contain rat poison and antiretroviral drugs. The Drugs and Trafficking Act defines it as a combination of heroin and cannabis.

Spotja was introduced to the cheap, highly-addictive drug by his friends. A bag of nyaope costs about R30 to R40.

“I know I need to stop. I desperately want to leave the drug but it is very difficult. I have lost many things since I became a nyaope addict. I sold my clothes to feed my drug habit. I also lost my girlfriend in the process and don’t ever get to see my child.”

Spotja passes the joint to his friend Kabelo. Like Spotja, he is unemployed and admits to having to steal to feed his addiction.

“When I don’t have money for nyaope I have to hustle. Sometimes I steal, beg on the corner of the road or rob people at gunpoint.”

Kabelo started smoking nyaope in 2000 and while he is desperate to quit the drug, he says it is impossible to do so.

It is the withdrawal – the cramps, nausea, mood swings and aggression – that makes nyaope so difficult to give up.

“I constantly need to smoke. An hour and a half is the most I can go without nyaope, otherwise my stomach cramps and it feels like I am going to die.”

Not even being locked up in prison could stop Kabelo from smoking nyaope. He has been in jail five times for robbery and theft.

“Police help us smuggle nyaope in. Sometimes we smuggle it by putting the plastic parcels up our (anuses),” he says.

While Kabelo became further addicted to nyaope in prison, his friend Justice used being behind bars as an opportunity to quit.

“During my three-year sentence I gave up nyaope. Prison rehabilitated me in a way. A few weeks ago, I started smoking again.”

Before Justice started smoking nyaope, he held down a steady job at a toy shop.

“Once I started smoking nyaope everything fell apart. I couldn’t keep my job, as I used to crave the drug every hour while at work. Eventually, I had to quit work.”

A few joints later, Spotja and his buddies are on to the next bag of nyaope. Slowly, the shack is filling with a cloud of smoke.

They have three bags with them that they plan to smoke in one sitting. The strong smell of dagga lingers in the room.

While some of Spotja’s crew are slowly falling asleep, Norman makes another nyaope joint. The 27-year-old has been smoking the drug for a number of years, but says he is not an addict.

“If I wanted to quit tomorrow, I could, but I enjoy the high.”

Norman says he doesn’t want to become like his nyaope-addicted friends, who don’t bath for days and often resort to stealing.

“I know a nyaope addict who once went 30 days without bathing,” he says.

Sometimes Norman and his friends can go days without eating a square meal.

“Very seldom do we eat a proper meal like pap and meat. We live off cheap biscuits and crisps or amakip-kip (a maize snack).”

Very little money goes to supporting their children.

“Whenever we have money, most of it goes towards nyaope. You don’t think of anything else but yourself and your craving for the drug.”

Spotja points out that the drug is becoming increasingly popular among women in Soweto.

His friend Lebo was introduced to nyaope at the age of 16. Earlier this year, Lebo fell pregnant and gave birth to a premature baby a month ago.

“Nyaope has ruined me. It showed me a different life I wasn’t ready for,” Lebo says as she bursts into tears. “Perhaps nyaope is the reason my baby was premature.”

She began abusing the drug when she was pregnant.

“In July, my boyfriend broke up with me. Within a week, he already had another girlfriend. I became depressed when he left and failed to acknowledge I was carrying his baby.

“I was smoking more often and never thought that it would affect my baby. I have a lot of friends who smoked nyaope while they were pregnant and it didn’t affect them, so I took advantage of that.

“Thankfully, my parents look after my child. As an addict, I struggle to look after him. I don’t have any money and beg on street corners.”

Lebo and the rest of the crew are desperate to turn their lives around.

Kabelo says he aspires to be a businessman: “If it wasn’t for nyaope, I could have been sitting in my office right now. I was good at accounting and physics at school, before I dropped out. Maybe I could have been a doctor. This nyaope came and ruined my future.

“If I could go to rehab, I would grab the opportunity. Maybe I will set an example to others in our location who smoke nyaope.”

It’s 5pm. In three hours, Spotja and his crew have finished all the nyaope bags.

There’s nothing else to do – they head out to the streets to hustle for their next fix.

A dangerous street drug

Nyaope, also known as whoonga in some parts of the country, is a dangerous and highly addictive South African street drug.

It is a fine white powder, which is usually combined with marijuana (dagga), and smoked.

It is not always clear what all of the ingredients of nyaope are but it’s basis is low-grade heroin and cannabis which is cut with other ingredients like baby powder and flour. There are persistent myths that nyaope also includes rat poison, detergent and anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs used to treat HIV. This is, however, unconfirmed.

Witness to the nyaope scourge

“It is painful to see a nyaope addict, who used to be a decent child who grew up around you.”

These were the words of a Tladi township resident, who wished not to be named.

“But we have to beat them up when they steal from us,” the resident said.

“The addicts are a thorn in the community’s side and peer pressure is resulting in more addicts. They are unemployed and so they steal to support their addiction.”

Another resident, Robert Rammekwa, said nyaope was “ruining the community”.

“These addicts desperately need help. The only solution to the problem is to get them to rehab.”

Rammekwa said if someone could assist the addicts get free rehab, it could help stop the scourge.

He revealed when the addicts stole and got caught, the community assaulted them and called the police.

However, even afterwards the issues persisted.

“As a community we can’t do anything for them. All we do is beat them when they steal.

“We have done it often but it makes no difference.

“A few come back from prison reformed. However, others continue to smoke nyaope and steal,” Rammekwa said.

The police respond

Lieutenant-Colonel Lungelo Dlamini of the SAPS speaks: “The most common drugs seized in Gauteng are mandrax, cat, cocaine powder, dagga and a mixture of other drugs known as nyaope.

“People who are arrested (in connection with) nyaope are mostly youngsters and homeless people. The youngsters will steal anything to buy nyaope.

“They also steal from their parents and neighbours to buy nyaope or other drugs.

“The value of nyaope on the street is about R30-R50. This is the same as the price of dagga and it depends on its amount (usually it comes in small packets).

“Nyaope has become popular among the youth who are not involved in hard drugs or not exposed to hard drugs.

“Police have not come across a nyaope lab, but it appears nyaope is mixed at street level.

“There isn’t a specific unit dealing with drugs. At the moment it is dealt with by our visible policing units.

“All drug-related crimes, especially drug traffickers, dealers and drug labs, are dealt with by the special investigative unit, the Hawks.

“Any information related to drugs is forwarded to the Hawks and further investigation continues at that level.”

Should it be legalised?

A professor at the University of Pretoria has taken up a very controversial stance by suggesting that nyaope be legalised.

Professor Jannie Hugo, who has worked closely with homeless children affected the hardest by the highly addictive drug, believes it is in the best interests of the fight against the scourge to shift the conversation from the criminal element of the drug to the actual problem.

“Legalise the drug,” he said recently in an interview.

“I’m not apologetic about it. I know there might be other effects but we work with nyaope-addicted children and I am telling you it would be better if the thing was legal.”

As to exactly why he would take on this seemingly radical stance, Hugo explained that legalising the drug implies the capacity and ability to control.

“We need to focus on controlling it, but now the focus is on the crime part of it.

“If we consider decriminalising it, we can focus on managing the problem of nyaope and not just the policing of it.

“We should at least discuss it and then focus on treatment and rehabilitation – not just the criminal response to it.”

Hugo added that criminalising the drug had failed dismally mainly because police officers were involved in peddling it.

“It has clearly failed, and we need to find other ways to deal with the widespread availability and use of nyaope,” the professor said.

“The criminal justice system was in the field playing for the eradication of nyaope, but some officers also played in the team against this,” he said.

What the rehabilitation centres say

Come Back Mission is a non-profit organisation based in Soweto.

It partnered with the Department of Social Development to open the Chris Hani Baragwanath Substance Abuse Treatment Centre this year.

Monique Fisher, the centre manager, said it provided in-patient treatment for adult males, aged 18 years and older.

They were only able to accommodate 20 service users and out of those 16 were nyaope addicts.

“Our programme runs for eight weeks and consists of medical detoxification and therapeutic intervention.”

Many of the addicts were referred to the centre by social workers as well as outpatient treatment centres in the greater Soweto area.

Nationally, Home Detox SA is a company which provides home-based nyaope treatment to those who cannot afford rehab.

Home Detox director Grant Allman said the first step to stop the withdrawal symptoms was to medically detox addicts.

Allman said nyaope was physically addictive and this meant once a person had taken nyaope a few times, they would suffer physical withdrawal pains such as stomach cramps, nausea, sickness, loss of appetite and sweating.

He said the withdrawal symptoms were only reduced once the person used nyaope again.

“The 12-step narcotic anonymous is a long tried-and-tested method. Often counselling and some sort of support are very beneficial.”

Saturday Star

If you need help for Nyaope addiction contact Home Detox South Africa today on 087 550 1938 or email help@homedetox.co.za. Below is the full Sunday Live episode that featured HDSA Director discussing Nyaope.

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2 comments on “Nyaope – Drug that sends future up in smoke
  1. Fifee says:

    Nyaope addiction is really bad in South Africa!

  2. XO Leah says:

    Horrible drug

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