Whoonga is a drug that has allegedly come into widespread use in South Africa in 2010, notably in the impoverished townships of Durban. It is claimed to be appearing in other places in South Africa as well.
There are differing reports regarding the exact ingredients of whoonga. Some reports mention only dagga (marijuana) being used as a base while others say it is heroin or even a cocktail of heroin and crystal meth and that dagga is merely smoked together with it rather than being the base drug. The base drug is stretched with various other substances that may include rat poison and powdered detergents and in particular anti-retroviral drugs used for AIDS treatment. However, AIDS experts point out that the ingredients of the anti-retroviral drugs are unlikely to cause the whoonga high and users might simply fool themselves in that regard. According to some experts of the South African Police Service and drug rehabiliation centers whoonga is essentially just a rebranding of older heroin based drugs like sugars:
“The media has made a fuss about the new drug on the streets, panicking people and worrying the government. But it’s not new,” the SAPS’s Colonel Jay Naicker said.
“The drug dealers add all sorts of stuff to the heroin, the primary ingredient, just to increase the mass of the drug when it’s sold and make the heroin go further. A lot of the stuff has no effect and users have no idea what’s going in,” said a member of the police’s Organised Crime Unit.
The drug is described as highly addictive. Project Whoonga, a charity devoted to combating the drug, reports that users feel heavy cravings even on the first day of use. It is also dangerous, because it reduces both heart and lung function. In overdose, heart and lung function reduction becomes fatal. Withdrawal symptoms reportedly involve both craving and pain, which are temporarily relieved by fresh doses of the drug.
The anti-retroviral drugs allegedly used to make whoonga are those distributed in the area to patients with HIV. The claimed major source of the anti-retrovirals appears to be robbery of HIV patients. There are media reports which claim HIV patients are being mugged for their pills as they leave the clinics where they obtain them. Reports also claim that some patients sell their HIV medications and that some corrupt health workers may be selling the anti-retrovirals illegally into the whoonga market.
The cost of the drug is reported to be about 20 rand, or three US dollars . However, reports indicate that a whoonga addict needs several doses a day, and users are typically too poor to afford the drug out of their legal income. Addicts therefore turn to crime to raise the money for their supply. There are reports that claim whoonga addicts attempt to become HIV-positive, since anti-retrovirals are distributed to poor HIV patients free of charge.