Updated 11 April 2014

Is nyaope South Africa's worst drug?

Nyaope is now officially an illegal drug. But what is it and what are the effects on users?

Nyaope (also known as whoonga or wunga) is a highly addictive, dangerous and destructive street drug, unique to South Africa.

According Lesego Tau in an article for GlobalMediaGirl, the drug made a name for itself between 2000 and 2006 in the Tshwane townships of Soshanguve, Attridgeville and Mamelodi. 

It reared its ugly head in and around Durban in 2010, and has since spread like wildfire around the country.

Users are so desperate to make the drug that gangs have robbed anti-retroviral clinics in Soweto

A single hit can cost as little as R30 for a parcel or straw and is smoked by heating the cocktail of ingredients and inhaling the fumes.

What are the effects of using nyaope?

Initially users feel euphoric or, when using heavier doses, a wonderful sense of relaxation, but the effects soon wear off and another hit is required.

For some the less pleasant side effects include a painful stomach, muscle cramps and generally feeling really ill, but when these ease up, they use again.  

Experts say just using it once is enough to get users hooked - similar to heroin addiction

Withdrawal is said to be especially harrowing and include symptoms of stomach cramps, insomnia, diarrhoea and vomiting.

Nyaope is a cocktail of illegal drugs

Both heroin and dagga, which are the main narcotic ingredients of nyaope, are listed as undesirable dependence-producing substances in the Drugs Act.

While it is not always clear what else nyaope consists of, and the ingredients vary from place to place, some of the alleged ingredients are a cocktail of anti-retroviral drugs, milk powder, rat poisonbicarbonate of soda and pool cleaner. 

Users also report that, when using nyaope, they can go for days without eating, which in turn weakens their immune system and makes them vulnerable to infection. 

Image: nyaope user, from Operation Thiba Nyaope


Now posessing nyaope is finally illegal

After a year-long wait for the amendment of the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act 140 of 1992 to classify the street drug nyaope, as of 28th March 2014 the drug is now officially illegal. 

Prior to the amendment act SANCA’s National Coordinator, Cathy Vos, reported that the problem with nyaope is severe and that in the townships where it is used, there is a misconception that it is not even a drug. 

This is an opportunity for the media and SANCA to send out information about nyaope to people and alert them about the rehabilitation centres across the provinces,” Cathy added.

The Justice department announced that the amendments to the Drugs Act include chemically related substances that incorporate a structural fragment into their structures similar to that of nyaope.

Spokesperson for the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, Mthunzi Mhaga, says  the government is committed to the fight against crime and to make South Africa a safer and drug-free country.

The court may impose severe penalties for a contravention of sections 4(b) and 5(b) of the Drugs Act.

Image: Nyaope paraphernalia, from Operation Thiba Nyaope


The consequences of being caught possessing nyaope

The use or possession of undesirable dependence-producing substances is punishable with a fine the court may deem fit, or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 15 years, or both a fine and imprisonment.

“'Dealing' an undesirable dependence-producing substance is punishable with imprisonment for a period not exceeding 25 years, or both imprisonment and a fine, as the court may deem fit,” said Mhaga.

There are doubts, however, about whether imprisoning someone for what is essentially a health-related issue is counter productive and a huge waste of funds that could rather be spent on rehabilitation. 

Users and family members of users can seek help at Operation Thiba Nyaope on Facebook or contact SANCA

Watch: Journeyman TV's report on nyaope abuse in South Africa

Read more:

'Whoonga' drug a twist in the war on Aids
All about heroin
Dagga: some basic facts

Image: Drugs from Shutterstock

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