Stories of kids smoking antiretroviral drugs to get high first surfaced in South Africa last spring. Picked up by the BBC last week, they are now burning through the WTF pages of the blogosphere. Should we give a damn?
Interestingly, I can’t find anything anywhere from anyone who has actually nicked the pills off their Mum, crushed them up, rolled them and smoked them. A politician says it feels like taking smack, but his account doesn’t sound very first hand account on either score. Tooli Nhlapo, a documentary maker with SABC, said that after they smoke the meds “The children do not know where they are and they stop making sense”.
How much sense were they making in the first place? Quite a lot, in a teen-eyed view, you might argue. Smack costs money. ARVs are free, to those who need them. It’s just a matter of getting the meds from the hands of patients to those of bored, thrill-seeking teens. More than one in 10 teens is infected with HIV in some parts of the country and bored, thrill-seeking teens are the very ones most likely to be infected. So they could stop swallowing their meds and start smoking them (especially if we press ahead with the WHO’s “potential strategy” of testing everyone annually and putting pills in the hands of every infected person right away). Others teens are apparently buying ARVs off people who would rather have cash to buy booze than take their meds. It slightly begs the question: if teens have cash to spare why don’t they just skip the extra step and get high on booze right away? Are manufacturers of alcopops missing a trick in the South African market?
It’s hard to know how much of this is real and how much is just another silly season media beat-up. I notice that the usually very sensible Treatment Action Campaign doesn’t dignify the reports with any comment. But if the reports are even partly true, it is one more strike at the heart of the prevention approach which relies on young people making sensible decisions about their long-term future in the face of diversions like sex or drugs that will deliver fun right now.