Nyaope addict Lucas‚ 27‚ reaches for a syringe‚ draws blood from a high friend and injects himself. "When I do not have anything and my friend has a hit‚ he injects himself and then I draw his blood and inject it in myself to get my high."The cravings are so unbearable that you do not care about the risks anymore‚" said Lucas‚ of Soshanguve block X‚ north of Pretoria.
He's been using Nyaope for 10 years. His veins are in tatters‚ and he says smoking the drug no longer gives him the high it used to‚ so he has turned to injecting the powder drug loosened with water directly into his blood vessels.
Sometimes he has no money to get the drug‚ so he finds a friend who has already had a fix. Lucas then draws blood from his friend to inject it into himself‚ sharing the high.
This latest vampire-like horror from South Africa’s drug world is called “Bluetooth”‚ after the technology which connects different electronic devices.
But for the addicts practising it‚ say experts‚ “Bluetooth” almost certainly means infection with potentially deadly diseases and possible death.
A tiny bag of Nyaope – also known as whoonga and whose ingredients are said to include heroin among other drugs including anti-retrovirals‚ although this is disputed - costs R30 and is enough for one person. Solomon Matejoana‚ 19‚ said if they were a group of three addicts but only have a single hit‚ one will inject himself with the drug and share his blood with the others.
"We have to do it‚ otherwise you will not survive the cravings‚" he said.
The medical fraternity is shocked by the addicts’ method of exchanging blood to share a fix.
Nyaope addicts inject the blood of a fellow user into their veins in a new trend called 'Bluetooth'. Image: Judas Hlongwane
National department of health spokesperson‚ Joe Maila‚ said they were extremely worried as they fear the rate of HIV transmission will sky-rocket.
“This creates a huge problem because there are different blood groupings as well‚ which might create other health complications. We need to educate people about the dangers of sharing blood‚ as a society. We need to talk about this everywhere society gathers. We as a department are very worried about this trend‚” he said.
The South African Medical Association said the “Bluetooth”-method guarantees infection.
The prevalence of Hepatitis B and C as well as HIV is incredibly high amongst addicts who use needles‚ said its vice-chairman‚ Mark Sonderup‚ adding they are currently involved in massive screening across the country to get an idea of the scale of the problem.
“The prevalence of hepatitis B is incredibly high‚ it is approaching in excess of 80% and it is not surprising with these kind of practices.
“When you share needles‚ injecting drugs‚ you increase the risk. When you actually draw blood and inject it‚ you guarantee the infection‚” Sonderup said.
Several addicts like Lucas hang out on the periphery and dark alleys around Mabopane station. Female addicts‚ dying for a fix‚ sell sex openly in the thin bushes around the railway line.
They confirmed the blood transfusion method and even offered to prove it if we bought them a hit. We didn’t buy them drugs. Later in the evening The Times tracked down Nyaope addicts outside a spaza shop in Soshanguve Block X. The duo had one hit and offered to demonstrate how they shared the drug through "Bluetooth". We were allowed to take pictures on condition we did not write their names or showed their faces.
One of them opened the drug‚ wrapped in a brown plastic‚ and mixed it with water before drawing it with a syringe‚ using his lips. He then handed the syringe over to his friend to inject him. The friend emptied the syringe and‚ as the receiver staggered with the kick of the drug‚ his friend grabbed him‚ drew his blood with the same syringe and injected himself.
Their veins are so wasted that they now go down to their scrotum to “get on the trip” and avoid the excruciating pain of cravings‚ at all costs.
Sonderup said telling people that they should not do something was not going to solve the problem. Instead‚ it was incredibly important to identify vulnerable populations‚ give them access to screening and link them to care if they are infected.
On a positive note‚ Sonderup said treatment‚ such as ARV treatment‚ dramatically reduces the risk of transmitting the virus through injecting drugs.
“Treatment for hepatitis C is now a short course‚ about 12 weeks treatment‚ and guarantees eradication of the virus. Also‚ (we can) offer these people vaccination for hepatitis so that they are already protected‚” he said.
Sonderup said the country needed a department of health that would intervene‚ as drug addicts were a marginalised and criminalised population.
“People do not want to be sitting on the streets injecting drugs. It is an addiction. We have marginalised this group in our society.”
- TMG Digital/TimesLIVE