Getting high on HIV drugs in S Africa

By fnord · Dec 8, 2008 · ·
  1. fnord
    Getting high on HIV drugs in S Africa

    Alka Marwaha
    BBC News

    A child with HIV takes her medicine
    Anti-retrovirals are for boosting the immune system of people with HIV

    Anti-retroviral drugs used to treat HIV/Aids are being bought and smoked by teenagers in South Africa to get high.

    Reports suggest that the drugs are being sold by patients and even healthcare staff for money.

    Schoolchildren have been spotted smoking the drugs, which are ground into powder and sometimes mixed with painkillers or marijuana.

    Aids patients themselves have been found smoking the drugs instead of taking them as prescribed.

    Anti-retrovirals are used to boost the immune system of people with HIV and to suppress the virus in the blood.

    "I couldn't believe it. I was shocked at first, these were school boys in their school uniforms," documentary-maker Tooli Nhlapo told the BBC World Service's Outlook programme.

    "They take a pill and grind it, until it is a powder. Some also mix it with painkillers and others mix it with marijuana," said Ms Nhlapo. "They showed me how they roll it and smoke it."


    When the South African Broadcasting Corporation documentary-maker first investigated the story, she was told to wait until school finished, so she could actually see how young some of the users were.

    Cannabis marijuana plants
    The pills are crushed and mixed with other ingredients, like marijuana

    "I thought I was going to go to a tavern and see older drug addicts doing this, but I was shocked when I saw school children," she said.

    "One who spoke to me very frankly was only 15 and the oldest person I spoke to was 21, but it's mainly youngsters, teenagers."

    Smoking the pills has a hallucinogenic and relaxing affect.

    "When I asked them why they like doing it, they said it helps them relax and forget about their problems," said Ms Nhlapo.

    "When you look at them, just a few seconds after taking it, they are in another world," she added.

    The children do not know where they are and they stop making sense.

    The young users that Ms Nhlapo spoke to get access to these drugs from HIV patients or healthcare workers.

    They know when the individual patients go to collect the drugs and buy them, or if they do not have any money, they steal them.

    "When I was doing the story, many HIV patients were complaining that they don't get the drugs and that queues are long and it was taking a long time to access them," said Ms Nhlapo.

    Widespread problem

    Dr Kas Kasongo, who advises on an anti-retroviral drugs panel in South Africa, feels that there needs to be some measure of accountability or a system to be able to track the usage of drugs.

    "We need pharmacists and good administrators but again it is a social problem," he said.

    "I don't think our role as doctors should be to just dish out drugs. We have to make sure that these drugs are taken as recommended."

    When Ms Nhlapo first came across this new drug phenomenon, she thought it was just happening in one area, among a small group of people.

    "I went back to the township and then I discovered that it was something that was known in the entire township," she said.

    It had now become a national problem in South Africa, she added.

    Dr Kasongo continued: "Not taking the optimum dose as recommended will not suppress the virus and the CD4 count will be destroyed massively and that's what we are trying to prevent by giving anti-retroviral medication."


    Most anti-retroviral drugs can be given to both children and adults, Dr Kasongo said. But there was one exception.

    "There is one that is being abused that should only be used above the age of three or four years," he added.

    "Remember we are giving anti-retroviral drugs to those infected with HIV, who will eventually develop Aids.

    "So, people who are healthy, that are taking this medication are exposing themselves to potential side-effects of these drugs," he added.

    No matter how high they are, they do not tell you who is giving them the drugs
    Tooli Nhlapo

    HIV patients are exposing themselves to huge risks by not taking the prescribed drugs as they should, he warned.

    "We don't have more than 20 anti-retroviral drugs on the market and remember, they have to be used in a cocktail of at least three or four," said Dr Kasongo.

    "Therefore, abusing a particular drug, whichever it is, is a concern because it can give rise to resistance to drugs within that same group," he added.

    Dr Kasongo stressed that it will take a huge team effort, involving the government, social workers and education authorities to combat the problem.

    "It is well organised, no matter how high they are, they do not tell you who is giving them the drugs," said Ms Nhlapo.

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  1. cra$h
    now what drug is this anti-retroviral drug are they talking about? It sounds like there's a couple of the same kind of intended effect, but one with hallucenogenic. Doens't sound like much of a problem to just switch to the non psychoactive ones.
  2. Potter
    Nobody was looking into a paid experiment for reto-virals a few years ago, they were offering $5,000 (US). Their step-dad, a well respected pathologist, told nobody it was a damn stupid thing to do, that the side effects of those could be crippling and only a fool would touch them if they weren't in danger of death by virus. Nobodys dad is a smart and educated man and he doesn't often joke around, a warning not to be taken lightly.

    Nobody really hopes this story doesn't inspire people to do stupid things.
  3. Triple7
    This is a very good example that people do whatever they can do to get a high. The high of the pills is probably better than cans and glue. If HIV could cause a high, then some would take it. Don't you think?

    Now when the mediation is used wrong, the patient will die faster and also get higher concentrations of HIV in blood that then because of that spreads to others which flourish the economic catastrophy to the greedy ones.

    So does preventing drug use really lengthen our lives?
  4. Potter
    This was posted to a follow up over at Dose Nation

    Update: Kids smoking HIV drugs
    A number of our commenters found the story of "Kids smoking HIV drugs" to be particularly unlikely. As one commenter wrote:

    i wanna see the science behind this. Sounds like some jenkem shit to me (no pun intended). i suspect what they are mixing it with is the culprit.

    As a follow up, James offered this theory:

    There are no specific drugs mentioned in the article other than anti-retrovirals, which could be a variety of things. However, most ARVs are enzyme-like macromolecules with big chunks of transcriptor RNA hanging off of them. By the time they are burned and smoked and absorbed into the bloodstream they would have broken down into a bunch of different simpler molecules, metabolites, and so on. I could easily imagine the breakdown of large quantities of these types of drugs taken all at once causing some kind of dizziness or disorientation for short periods of time, but it is still messed up. My initial guess is that this is probably a way to get high, but not a good one.

    And as it turns out, this exact question - media exaggeration or true story - came up on a separate forum, where one of the esteemed contributors offered this useful information:

    In the BBC article, Dr. Kasongo doesn't specify which of the antiretrovirals should be avoided altogether for patients younger than four years old or give any explanation why, but efavirenz, distributed in the US under the name Sustiva and in Africa as Stocrin, is a purine-pyridine derivative similar to piperazine and piperidine derivatives from Piperaceae-Piper species. Both piperazine and piperidine derivatives are currently under aggressive investigation for their ability to bind as HIV receptor antagonists and to inhibit viral RNA replication. Efavirenz has well-known associations with psychotropic side-effects such as dizziness, impaired concentration, hallucinations and abnormal, vivid dreams, and it has been sold illicitly along with Viagra (sidenafil, another piperazine derivative) and HIV protease inhibitors to potentiate both compounds in front of the night club Viper Room on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood. An article written in May of 2007 reports that South Africans have increased recommended dosages to achieve a "buzz." "They say it gives them a better high than Mandrax and it makes them feel dizzy, weird and have wonderful dreams."
  5. Euthanatos93420
    This is very true. In fact. Tolerance is the one reason this isn't always Possible:

    Swim knows someone who used to take this. It only causes trippy hallucinations (CEVs & OEVs) the first time and it lasts for several hours. It tends to cause mostly CEVs and be slightly hallucinogenic the second interval dose but afterward no longer produces hallucinations though trippy feelings of 'strangeness' may be experience for a few more intervals. All if taken as prescribed, orally.

    This was one of the first (if not the first) HIV-drug to cross the BBB and is for this reason psychoactive. There might be other psychoactive drugs but this is the one Swim knows from AFOSWIM. This is second hand information as she is no longer with us for Swim to prompt for a first hand report and its rather ironic, and tragic, that she died in a car crash and in very good health (VL<50 TCC~500).

    Her case is one of finding HIV drugs to which she was extremely responsive and in this case she responded to so well. Other alternatives aren't really an option.

    There really aren't that many drugs that can be used to treat HIV. And out of those drugs individuals aren't always responsive to certain drugs and certain combinations. Abusing drugs by not taking them at regular intervals causes the Virus's tolerance (Which is different than an individual's tolerance) to a certain drug to increase and abuse can lead to overdose or mutation of the virus to resilience against a particular drug (And in some cases other similar drugs...which makes abuse even more dangerous for the individual suffering from HIV).

    Still, that doesn't stop someone from stealing your medicine. The notion disturbs me and I'm unsure really whether to post this information but still. This is a site dedicated to information and I do beleive in that principle. So whether or not this information should stay up I think should be decided by a moderator because I'm not really sure whether I trust my own conscience here.

    Euthanatos93420 added 11 Minutes and 22 Seconds later...

    I guess it doesn't matter since the post potter made names Sustiva as well. Maybe this thread should be moved to the Gold forum?
  6. Fat Cop
    This is probably a problem in only a few run down towns and Im sure most of the kids arent doing them. Its like huffing gasoline. There have been young children heavily into that shit before. Its not like an epidemic. Thats pretty weird though. Youd think they could just smoke the weed like normal kids.
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