A HIGHLY addictive concoction of anti-retroviral drugs, mandrax and rat poison - Nyaope - has reportedly hit the streets of Bulawayo, with users reportedly parting with large sums of money just to get their hands on it. Following a two-week investigation by this paper, it was discovered that the drug mixture, which originates from South Africa, is being peddled openly in the city, with officials from the Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe (MCAZ) professing ignorance of its existence or possible measures to contain it.

The concoction includes ARV tablets, milk powder, rat poison, bicarbonate of soda, mandrax and pool cleaner, which are crushed together to form a fine mixture, mixed with marijuana and then taken through smoking.

Sunday News managed to get the concoction tested at a local laboratory and officials confirmed that it contained efavirenz, a non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor used as part of highly active antiretroviral therapy.

"While the other ingredients were not conclusive, we discovered that it contains significant levels of efavirenz," said the laboratory official.

Efavirenz is also used in combination with other anti-retroviral agents as part of an expanded post-exposure prophylaxis regimen to reduce the risk of HIV infection in people exposed to a significant risk.

Nyaope is also known as whoonga or wunga. At times it is also mixed with heroine and chlorine and is available in two colours - green or white.

In South Africa, where it was discovered last year, gangs went to the extent of robbing clinics of ARVs just to fulfil their needs for this drug.
A single hit in Bulawayo can cost between $30 and $150 for a parcel or straw and is smoked by heating the cocktail of ingredients and inhaling the fumes.
Contacted for comment on this new drug, MCAZ spokesperson, Mr Richard Rukwata, professed ignorance, saying he was unaware of the drug, stating that they would dispatch their teams to investigate the matter as the only way to deal with a new drug was to contain it in its infancy.

"I am honestly not aware of that drug but since you have brought it to our knowledge, we will now dispatch our teams to investigate it, that is, with the assistance of the police as we have limited resources and no arresting powers at all.

"We would, however, need members of the public to really assist us because when dealing with a new drug it becomes difficult to unravel how the peddling circle operates," Mr Rukwata said.

He also bemoaned the authority’s lack of arresting powers, noting that this affected their endeavour to curb the peddling of illegal substances in the country.

"We are not only short of resources but the fact that we do not have arresting powers means we have to always rely on the police. Therefore, under such circumstances we can only report to the police who have the necessary resources to conduct investigations but to be frank, at the moment I am not even aware what that drug is and whether it has made it to the streets of Bulawayo," said Mr Rukwata.

A Sunday News crew managed to go undercover to purchase the drug and discovered that quite a number of youths were prepared to part with large sums of money to buy it.

Questioned on how he runs his business, one of the peddlers claimed he had been successfully operating for the past six months.

"I have previously been based in South Africa where this drug is much more famous; here I discovered that it is much easier to access the ARVs, where I simply contact some of my friends working as nurses who supply me with weekly batches.

"As for the other ingredients, they are openly available on the streets. It is the mixture that is rather complicated as it needs some expert hands to do it. That is what makes it quite expensive because no one can just get the mixture correct," said the drug peddler who spoke to our reporter.

Questioned on the dangers of this drug to its users, the peddler said most users were fully aware of the consequences when they purchased it.

"When one uses such drugs they are fully aware of the consequences, we do not force them at all although we are also out to make a profit.

"I can tell you that people literally come with their property to purchase this drug and for that reason I would say I am benefiting from this small business of mine regardless of its illegality," said the peddler.

Deputy Minister of Health and Child Care, Dr Paul Chimedza, said while he was not aware of the said drug or the alleged abuse of ARVs, it was his hope that the responsible authorities would act accordingly to deal with the matter before it went out of hand.

"It is disappointing that this comes at a time when we want to have more ARVs in the country as per the new World Health Organisation’s guidelines. Instead of abusing the drugs we must consider that there are some people out there who really need them.

"I believe the responsible authorities, mainly the police, should move with speed to address this issue and ensure that these ARVs are not abused by these unscrupulous individuals," said Dr Chimedza.

According to health24.com, users of Nyaope report that when using the drug, they can go for days without eating, which in turn weakens their immune system and makes them vulnerable to infection.

"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.

"Withdrawal is said to be especially harrowing and includes symptoms of stomach cramps, insomnia, diarrhoea and vomiting. Experts say just using it once is enough to get users hooked, similar to heroin addiction," the website reads.

A senior official at Ingutsheni Hospital who preferred to remain anonymous, said many people were coming for counselling at the hospital after abusing drugs.

"Drug abuse is very common in the city and the country at large. Drugs which are being abused are marijuana and crystal meth. Hospitals and police in the city refer people who could be drug addicts or are abusing drugs to us so that we can help them.

"When they come to us we refer them to our psychiatric doctor who will counsel them.
"When the doctor feels or sees that the patient is now better he or she can be taken back to the police or hospitals that referred them to us," the official said.

Active Youth Zimbabwe director, Mr Romio Matshazi, said drug abuse was on increase in the country because of the accessibility of cheaper options.

"Youths are constantly involved in drug abuse. Some of the drugs they abuse include a cough syrup called Broncleer which is mostly known as Ngoma, and marijuana," said Mr Matshazi.

"They (youths) consume drugs for fun and at the end they become drug addicts. Instructions will be clear but they don’t bother to read them. As an organisation we are therefore striving to ensure that we have a drug-free environment.

"Broncleer is a cough syrup meant for alleviating colds and coughs as per instructions contained on the leaflet, but some people are finding pleasure drinking down 50ml to 100ml instead of the prescribed 10ml at a time for adults."

The cough syrup is sold for between $3 and $4 per 100ml bottle on the streets.

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