Whoonga (also known as Nyaope or wunga) is a street drug that has allegedly come into widespread use in South Africa since 2010, mostly in the impoverished townships of Durban. Although, it is claimed to be appearing in other places in South Africa as well.

It’s famous for allegedly containing antiretroviral drugs for HIV, but its exact ingredients are subject to many urban legends. Some versions are:

  • whoonga contains classic psychoactive drugs like dagga (marijuana), crystal meth or heroin potentiated by interactions with ritonavir
  • whoonga contains efavirenz (alone or with the ingredients mentioned above), which supposedly has psychoactive side-effects

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.Also, a laboratory analysis of samples of the drug failed to detect any anti-retroviral drugs in its makeup.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.

The anti-retroviral drugs allegedly used to make whoonga are part of those distributed in the area to patients with HIV, being on government treatment projects. 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 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.

Dangers from using whoonga include new strains of the HIV virus and drug resistance.

HIV drug resistance is growing due to recreational use of HIV drugs efavirenz and ritonavir, rendering them ineffective not only for users but non-users as well.

A study showed that 3% to 5% of people with HIV were coming in with “pre-treatment resistance” to antiretroviral drugs used to treat HIV, Dr. David Grelotti tells Shots.

Opportunists who market street drugs may be undermining the global struggle against AIDS. Dr. David Grelotti, Harvard School of Public Health researcher

As NPR reports, Dr. David Grelotti says that street use of AIDS anti-retroviral medication efavirenz (sold as Sustiva in the U.S.) may exploit the HIV drug’s “well-known tendency to cause especially vivid and colorful dreams and other central nervous system effects. Hypothetically, that could enhance the effects of marijuana, methamphetamine, heroin and other illicit drugs.” Also the other drug ritonavir (brand name Norvir), is thought to enhance or prolong the effects of some street drugs, such as MDMA or Ecstasy.

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 HIV patients free of charge by the Department of Health.

According to a report in The Sowetan, the organization Whoonga Free, founded to battle addiction to the drug, collapsed for lack of funding in March 2011.

As of 28 February 2013 the South African Department of Justice and Constitutional Development has been in the process of amending the Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act 140 of 1992 so that the possession and trafficking of the drug is made illegal.


  1. a b “Nyaope to be officially classified”. Sowetan Live. 28 February 2013. Retrieved 2013-04-11.
  2. a b c d Richard Knox: Dangers of ‘Whoonga’: Abuse Of AIDS Drugs Stokes Resistance. National Public Radio, 2012-12-18
  3. ^ Ronelle Ramsamy: Deadly Gamble. Zululand Observer, 2010
  4. a b Donna Bryson: AIDS drugs stolen in South Africa for ‘whoonga’ . Associated Press, 2010-11-28
  5. a b c New drug sweeping South Africa – Al Jazeera English Report (video, 2:15 min)
  6. ^ Ayanda Mdluli, Branden Ward and Daniel Whitehorn: Whoonga drug spreads rapidly. Website of the Sunday Tribune on 2010-6-21 (retrieved 2010-11-5)
  7. a b c d Masood Boomgaard: Whoonga Whammy. Independent Online, 2010-11-28
  8. ^ Slindile Maluleka: Dagga muffins back at schools. Independent Online, 2010-11-8
  9. ^ Kwa Dabekaa: Heroin’s Handmaiden. Dispatches, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 28 July 2011
  10. ^ Bryson, Donna (20 November 2010). “‘Whoonga’ drug: a new twist in S.Africa’s AIDS war”. Associated Press. Retrieved 22 November 2010.
  11. ^ Subashi Naidoo: ‘Two pulls and I was hooked’. Addicts mug patients for ARVs. Times Live, 2010-11-28
  12. ^ http://www.voxxi.com/hiv-drug-resistance-whoonga/
  13. ^ http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2012/12/18/167523601/dangers-of-whoonga-abuse-of-aids-drugs-stokes-resistance
  14. ^ Corrine Louw: Whoonga Battle Lost. The Sowetan, 12 April 2011


  • New drug sweeping South Africa – Al Jazeera English Report (video, 2:15 min)
  • Ayanda Mdluli, Branden Ward and Daniel Whitehorn: Whoonga drug spreads rapidly. Website of the Sunday Tribune on 2010-6-21 (retrieved 2010-11-5)
  • Donna Bryson: AIDS drugs stolen in South Africa for ‘whoonga’ . Associated Press, 2010-11-28
  • Masood Boomgaard: Whoonga Whammy. Independent Online, 2010-11-28
  • Anders Kelto: Heroin’s Handmaiden. Dispatches, on CBC Radio One, 2011-2-24 (audio, 14:51 min)
  • Wikipedia Encyclopedia

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