'Two pulls and I was hooked'

29 November 2010 - 01:22 By SUBASHNI NAIDOO

Tami Langa had an average job, a normal family, and lived in a modest house in one of Durban's townships - until he experimented with a new highly addictive drug called whoonga.

"Two pulls" was all it took.

The drug is a concoction of dagga and an antiretroviral called Stocrin, to which dealers add chemicals found in rat poison, soap powder and several other substances to increase their profits.

Yesterday, the Sunday Times reported that the government's multibillion-rand antiretroviral drug roll-out programme is under threat from syndicates who have raided clinics, mugged Aids patients and attempted to hijack distribution trucks to steal Stocrin.

The syndicates, which are operating in KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng, Eastern Cape and Western Cape, are targeting the government's estimated 4000 treatment sites which provide ARVs to about 700000 patients.

The drug is being used by thousands of addicts who pay between R15 and R35 for a "single hit".

An addict can use more than seven Stocrin tablets a day, according to Project Whoonga, a non-governmental organisation combating the drug.

Aids activists, city councillors and health workers in the four provinces said they received as many as 100 new cases a week of Aids patients being robbed of Stocrin, also known as Efavirenz and Sustiva.

Langa, a rehabilitated addict, was introduced to the "monster drug" in his home town of Kwadabeka, west of Durban, four years ago.

"I was curious and everyone I knew was doing it. Two pulls is all it took to get me hooked."

Until recently, whoonga abuse was limited to KwaZulu-Natal, but it has spread to other parts of the country.

Langa, 30, a father of four, said: "I got to a point where I needed whoonga to start my day."

When he lost his job, Langa started selling the drug.

"People used to give me cellphones in exchange for a hit. Sometimes the cellphones contained pictures of people I knew but I did not care," he said.

Langa said his clients and friends mugged patients leaving clinics for their supplies of Stocrin.

"They knew exactly who was on the medication. They would make their way to the clinic, sit beside these people and then follow them home."

Dr Anwar Jeewa, a director of Durban rehab centre Minds Alive, said : "The drugs are not only being stolen. There are also a lot of unscrupulous nurses who are selling Stocrin to dealers and syndicates. It is spreading at a very rapid rate at the moment and it is concerning. It's rather bad."