It lives in our communities, tearing families apart and killing any sort of hope of a better future for the youth. Karabo Modise* is a 19-year-oldschool dropout and is living her worst nightmare. She regrets the day she asked for ‘two ska (two measures)’ of nyaope from her 28-year-old boyfriend. Like many young teenagers across the country, Karabo now finds herself at the mercy of the drug. As Karabo tries to explain her situation, her hands can’t seem to be still.

With her family turning their backs on her, she seems alone in this dreadful addiction, which adds more to her struggles. “I don’t blame them, I have caused them so much pain and disappointment in the past.” In the past couple of years, nyaope has been growing in popularity among the youth in the country and has turned some teenagers, who just needed a bit of guidance, into zombies.

WHAT IS NYAOPE?

Even though it seems like the new kid on the block, nyaope has been around for years, explains Anya O’Hagan from Recovery Direct. Karabo doesn’t know what sort of chemicals are being used to produce the drug and she adds that nyaope was a fairly new drug to her. “Nyaope or whoonga or wunga is a street term for a range of substances often dependent on location and supply. Heroin is, however, most often used as the primary addictive ingredient and rat poison, detergents, cannabis, methamphetamines (tik) and in some cases antiretroviral drugs are also added.

Outside of the heroin and tik the rest of the ingredients are usually fillers and street mixes that drug dealers use. They also use the cannabis as a carrier, although it is also a drug,” explains Anya. “In most cases the active substance is heroin which is a highly addictive substance. The ‘high’comes with feelings of euphoria as the drug floods the brain, which is one of the main reasons heroin, users get addicted to heroin.

In the Western Cape tik is a far more readily available addictive substance. Tik or methamphetamine, unlike heroin, is the opposite of narcotic. Tik users feel alert, it gives its users feelings of pleasure, confidence and energy. When the drug is released into the brain, users become addicted to the feelings they get from using the drug rather than the drug itself.” Anya further adds that drugs, like heroin, have been around for hundreds of years.

HOW KARABO GOT HOOKED

Karabo says it all started when she was relaxing with her unemployed boyfriend in his shack in an informal settlement near Kagiso. She knew her boyfriend was an addict but thought he had control over the substance. “I went to see him and I found him smoking it like usual, but that day I randomly asked him for a smoke, just to feel what he feels when he’s high. Since that day I’ve been smoking with him,” she explains.

Anya explains the way nyaope addicts are persistent in begging for something, it’s totally different from other drug users. The public has even popularised the phrase nyaope addicts use when begging, ‘Noma Nyini’.

THE UNKNOWN DANGERS OF THE DRUG

Anya explains how addicts put their lives on the verge of completely shutting down every time they smoke the drug. “With street drugs, the next hit could be lethal and many people are simply oblivious to the risks. Most of the street drugs are a mixture of word-of-mouth suggested ingredients by other drug dealers and like we mentioned, rat poison is a common ingredient.” Nyaope users are exposed to far higher risk taking behaviours and in far more dangerous company thus indirectly related accidents and criminal behaviour claims far more lives than our government would care to admit.

With mixing drugs, the central nervous system starts to shut down as users forget to breathe and swallow, therefore, fluid builds up in their airways.” The expert says the more common scenario is the user being poisoned by the mixed ingredients. Heroin or tik is expensive for the dealers to source, therefore, they simply keep enough active drugs in the nyaope mix to ensure their clients stay hooked and mix the rest with their own concoctions.

THE HEALING PROCESS

Karabo knows that the only way she is going to win her fight against nyaope is by checking herself into a rehabilitation centre, however, she has no financial resources to check herself into rehab. The Relapse Prevention helpline in South Africa is a non-profit advisory service that helps people find suitable rehabilitation services in close proximity to where they live. While private care treatment is often outside of many peoples financial capacity, SANCA offers treatment services nationwide.

Heroin and alcohol have the highest risks of death in the withdrawal phase. The rehabilitation procedure usually starts with an assessment meeting with a qualified addiction counsellor, who will determine the extent of the addiction. The longer people use the substance the more entrenched it becomes in their day to day life and harder to manage. This assessment would establish the next treatment steps to either enter an outpatient programme or following an admissions procedure to be admitted to a formal treatment facility.

*Not her real name