It was meant to save lives - but precious anti-retrovirals designed to fight Aids in South Africa's townships are being stolen by street gangs to produce a highly addictive new drug.

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A new drug epidemic is emerging in South Africa involving a substance used to fight Aids.

Addicts across the country are crushing up and devouring the life-saving drugs just to get their fix: destroying other lives as well their own.

It's a terrifying drug cocktail that's hooked South Africa's youth. They call it nyaope. It's like crack, with a sickening twist.

A key ingredient: the antiretroviral drugs designed to fight AIDS.

The nyaope addicts spend their time by the gates of an outdoor market on the edge of Tembisa.

They make a few rands by wheeling around shopping trolleys but all that money is spent on feeding their nyaope drugs habit.

Volatile concoction

Inside the market stall cages, in full public view, they crush up the drug and smoke it, several times a day - it's a volatile concoction.

The anti-Aids medicine can give an hallucinogenic high. The nyope mix can also include rat poison, third grade heroin and cleaning detergents like VIM. All this is often laced together with marijuana.

It takes a matter of minutes before they get high.

It is believed there are tens of thousands of addicts now right across South Africa.

Spreading epedimec

In the next door township Ivory Park the nyaope epidemic appears to be spreading fast.

Dr Oscar Makhublele knows full well just how devastating the effects of nyaope can be. He told Channel 4 News his own cousin is hooked and recently his surgery was raided by armed robbers.

They came to steal the antiretroviral drugs that were intended for his HIV positive patients.

He said: "There's no hope for the kids here, there's no hope. None at all."

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