Heroin is being added to numerous different drugs in order to drive addiction, with new drugs coming onto the market daily, flooding South Africa’s streets.
And the highly addictive heroin comes in many forms - from twists and straws to stones and now, capsules.
Chief executive officer of Mobi-Claw 911, Mike Myers said yesterday, Friday: "They (dealers) are lacing a lot of different things with heroin because it's so addictive in nature. Suppliers will look for lots of avenues to market to people. It's organised crime.
"Drugs are prolific at the moment and I believe heroin and cocaine are coming in through our ports. Drugs are easily available and so common in middle and upper-income suburbs. That also brings that criminal element into a suburb when a vehicle comes in to deliver drugs. It's scary, you don't know what's going on in your neighbour's home,“ said Myers.
One of the most recent forms of heroin to come out of South Africa is heroin in the form of capsules.
Local drug expert Simon Howell said drug manufacturers are constantly looking for new ways to package drugs in order to avoid suspicion from police.
“If you think about Durban for instance, the pill form came in and replaced drugs being sold in straws,” said Howell.
“There was a period where whoonga was big in Durban and it was being sold in straws.”
“The cops managed to make a substantial number of busts during that time and since then they have needed to change the way they packaged their drugs. So pills were the next logical progression.”
“They needed to find a way to distribute this stuff in a manner where it doesn’t look suspicious. Pills are great for that because they look like normal pills and you can buy large quantities of them at a very cheap price.
“It’s not a unique way, but a clever way of doing things and one which at least in the interim is novel and something that law enforcement won't be necessary looking for.”
Howell says the pill form of heroin has only been around for a few months.
“It's been around for about four or five months now but it is not the first time drugs have been dealt in capsules.”
Durban has seen a huge spike in capsulised heroin and Joburg seems to be experiencing the same problem.
This is according to well-known Gauteng private investigator Mike Bolhuis, who said capsulised heroin has been sold in Joburg for a while now.
“This is nothing new and it’s being sold nationwide, not just in Durban. Any drug that sells well in Durban will sell well in Joburg and Cape Town, and that has been the case with capsulised heroin.”
Last year a police operation targeting a drugs-processing facility in Pinetown, Durban, yielded a significant find: a machine for filling and processing pharmaceutical-style capsules. According to police, the machine was capable of processing up to 25 000 capsules per hour.
"It is definitely being manufactured here, but these drug labs just haven’t been discovered yet. They don't run these drug labs from buildings, they do them from houses, and places that are quite obscure and won’t draw any attention.
Two addicts who spoke to the Saturday Star on condition of anonymity, said that heroin capsules are popular because "if the cops catch you, you can always say it's medicine“.
"Also some people are scared of injections," said one addict who admits to needing a fix every five hours. It is like “being kissed by God”.
He added that the drug trade involved huge amounts of money being made by dealers who pay "taxes" to the police to look the other way.
"The state knows all about this. That's why the dealers can stand on a street corner and openly offer heroin to people to try for free. The capsules are not taken, they are just for distribution, users will open, empty out the heroin and smoke what’s inside.
Denis Hurley clinic co-ordinator, Ruth Birtwhistle who deals with drug addiction, said there were reports of heroin capsules being used since 2016.
The Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime’s monthly East and Southern Africa Risk Bulletin, January/February edition 2021 (GI-TOC) included an analysis titled “Civil Society Observatory of Illicit Economies in Eastern and Southern Africa" which looked at heroin capsules.
The report indicated that capsules can easily be disguised as medicine, while some police officers suggested that dealers can produce a larger quantity of capsules more efficiently than in other forms.
GI-TOC is a network of more than 500 experts on organised crime drawn from law enforcement, academia, conservation, technology, media, the private sector and development agencies.
Originally appeared in the Saturday Star.