Friday, 7 May 2021


TWENTY-THREE-YEAR-OLD *Thamu* feels the edge to get “high” ripple through his body.

Getting high, however, comes at a cost financially and as a drug user for the last four years, Thamu knows that buying illegal drugs always leaves him with an empty pocket despite the fact that the high lasts just a few hours.

In his own words “getting high is a feeling that leaves the youngster with a weird feeling of losing his feet while still attached to his body coupled with pleasant hallucinations that make him temporarily forget about his problems”.

His illegal drug of choice is mbanje (marijuana) smoked after drinking broncleer — a cough syrup widely abused by youths and readily available on the streets.

A bottle of broncleer sourced on the black market — a thriving business as a result of high demand for the cough syrup on the streets of Bulawayo — now costs US$5. The cost of getting high has gotten even more expensive in the last year for users like Thamu who take both broncleer and mbanje.

Since the closure of the Beitbridge border due to the Covid-19 pandemic last year, smugglers who supply the black market with broncleer are struggling to meet the demand for the product thus pushing its price even higher.

This is why some youths, who are always chasing the next high, are taking substance abuse to a new level: getting high from boiling diapers.

It has taken more than two weeks to track down Thamu and arrange for a sit-down and an impromptu demonstration on how a basic commodity like a diaper — a piece of towelling wrapped around a baby’s bottom and between its legs to absorb and retain urine and faeces — is getting youths high.

“Before the coronavirus outbreak, we used to buy bronco (slang name for broncleer) for US$3 because many people like omalayitsha and cross-border traders used to smuggle it from South Africa so it was abundant on the streets, making it affordable.

“Now a bottle costs US$5 and the guys who sell the bronco say the prices have gone up because borders are closed and it’s now risky to smuggle it from South Africa,” he tells Saturday Leisure.

Now enter the diapers craze!

Thamu says when he first heard about it at the end of last year, he was equally shocked but he has since joined youths in his Entumbane suburb who are hooked to the diapers craze.

“What we want is the white stuff inside pampers (diaper) which we boil in water and it forms a greyish substance. Most guys don’t drink the substance on its own because it smells and tastes bad but if you add it to half-a-bottle of bronco, it tastes much better. You get high for longer,” said Thamu.




On average, according to the youngster, one person needs about two bottles of broncleer per day to stay high, but with the diapers concoction added to the mix, four guys can get high from just two bottles.

“It’s all about getting high for a long period while spending less money. It’s hard to get money to get high from bronco alone so adding the mixture from boiled diapers does the trick for us,” he said.

Do the youths scavenge for used diapers? “I don’t know if others do it, but it’s disgusting to go around people’s dust bins searching for used pampers. They (diapers) are cheap so it’s better to just buy new ones and boil them. If I don’t have money for bronco, I will just drink the pampers mixture on its own, even if it tastes bad . . . at the end of the day I just want to get high,” he said.

Thamu, however, said he doesn’t have an idea what is contained in the diapers that make him and his peers get high from the boiled concoction.

A medical doctor, Dr Nomsa Mlalazi said diapers and sanitary pads contain a chemical known as sodium polyacrylate, which is used as an absorbent.

“If you were to tear up a diaper, you would see a white granular powder and that is sodium polyacrylate which absorbs water hence its used in the manufacture of diapers.

“Now from my understanding, these youths boil the material containing sodium polyacrylate but because of its horrible taste, they will add sugar or milk to the concoction before drinking it.

“The health implications of drinking such chemicals are dire and it’s only a matter of time before those abusing sodium polyacrylate start experiencing life-threatening health problems,” said Dr Mlalazi.

Thousands of kilometres away in Sierra Leone, in West Africa, authorities there are also battling the same problem.

As reported by Associated Press (AP) in February, Sierra Leone is facing a new phenomenon of drug abuse which sees the country’s youth, especially in the capital city Freetown, ingesting the boiled mixture from disposable diapers as an intoxicant.

The country’s Deputy Minister of Youth Affairs, Lusine Kallon, sounded alarm bells at the rate the youths were abusing diapers to get high.

“The supply of diapers is a multimillion-dollar industry, not only in Sierra Leone but in other countries in West Africa, but we are facing a new problem with our youths abusing the diapers to get high. I call on our health campaigners to educate youths on the dangers of taking in harmful chemicals,” he told the AP.

A Bulawayo resident Sibekiwe Nkiwane said she is not surprised that youths are getting high from diapers.

“When the bronco craze started some years ago, we were shocked because we only knew it as a cough syrup that every parent kept in their home, especially during winter.

“But now I don’t keep even a single bottle in my house lest my teenage son tries it and gets hooked. These kids experiment with anything so I’m not surprised that they are now drinking stuff from boiled pampers,” said Nkiwane.

According to a search on the Zimbabwean material safety data sheets (SDS), sodium polyacrylate, like many other drugs, may be hazardous to health as it may cause long-term illnesses. Chronicle


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