Medic’s lucky escape from city encounter with ‘Devil’s breath’

Criminals in Nairobi resort to deadly drug to rob their victims of valuables and in some cases body organs

With her last ounce of energy, she dragged herself to a nearby shop, screaming but barely producing any sound. She was asking for help. Something terribe was happening to her. She did not know what it was, but she was certain she needed help — immediately.

About a week since her ordeal, Dr Stella Bosire finds it scary and hard to walk around the streets of Nairobi alone, at night or during the day.

“Often, you hear stories of people drugged on the streets or in clubs or in buses told on social media. Many times, it’s a post on Facebook or a WhatsApp forward, and you don’t give it a thought, until it happens to you,” she says.

This is how Dr Bosire summed up her experience after being drugged and almost robbed on Moi Avenue in Nairobi. The only difference between her ordeal and that of any random man or woman on the street is that she is a trained medical doctor. This allowed her to quickly notice that something was wrong before any harm came to her.

On the fateful day, Dr Bosire had spent most of her afternoon at Nyayo House, renewing her passport.

“When done, I decided to take a walk along Moi Avenue and Tom Mboya Street, which during my campus days were known for amazing shoes,” she recounted.

Outside Naivas supermarket, two women sandwiched her as she attempted to cross the road towards Imenti House. Suddenly, the one on her right extended her hand as if to shake Dr Bosire’s.

“I declined but just as fast, the one on my left greeted me while smiling. I scanned her quickly and concluded that she meant no harm as she was smartly dressed. So I greeted her back… shook her hand.”

Barely two minutes later, she recalls having dizzy spells, her legs wobbly and failing.

“I turned and saw the two women following me. It was then that the possibility of having been drugged hit me.”

Dr Bosire’s experience is not an isolated one. Shortly after sharing her nightmare online, a Facebook user, Dr Nyachira Muthiga, wrote: “Be warned! Yesterday morning, three patients were brought in unconscious, having been drugged as they travelled overnight from Kisumu to Nairobi by bus. They were not seated together in the bus. All their personal effects were stolen and it took a while before they were alert enough to give correct numbers of their kin, who were then called.”

The experience shook Dr Bosire so much that moving around town alone has become one of those things she would rather not do.

“I have never been so scared in my life. I had such trauma that stepping out of the shop became impossible. Today, I can’t walk in town without a companion.”

Stories about scopolamine, a drug known as ‘Devil’s Breath’ being blown into faces, soaked into business cards, and/or transferred onto the skin to render unsuspecting victims incapacitated are increasing by the day.


The result? A ‘zombie-like’ state that leaves one with no ability to control their actions, and at risk of having their bank accounts emptied, homes robbed, and in worst-case scenarios, raped, and even organs stolen.

Outrageous as it may sound, scopolamine is often prescribed for the prevention of motion sickness, nausea and vomiting after surgery. Administered as an injection, the effects of scopolamine, also known as hyoscine, begin after about 20 minutes and last for up to eight hours.

And like huge doses of alcohol, or a lot of other drugs, scopolamine incapacitates you, making its victim too drowsy to remember what is going on.

However, the drug, which is mainly used within hospital set-ups, can be bought over the counter under the brand name Kwells. And now, it has found its way on the streets of Nairobi.

“It can be blown to your face, placed on your skin during handshake or given to you soaked in a business card. Its effects are nearly immediate as you become dizzy, weak and have blurry vision. The drug also gets you zombified, confused and lastly you lose free will,” explains Davis Ombui, a medical practitioner, on his Facebook post.

According to Dr Ombui, criminals mainly bank on their victims’ loss of freewill because they can exploit this to get their [victims’] bank pins, money in the pockets/purse and even M-Pesa transfer without coercion.

Wairimu Mbogo, a pharmacist and head of operations at Mercury Healthcare Solutions, says the drug is legally used by surgeons when administering anaesthesia to patients before surgery or in small quantities for managing seizures when prescribed by a doctor, but its speed in knocking out victims has turned it into a weapon of choice for criminals.

“The side effects of the drug, which include loss of consciousness, are what people are exploiting and abusing.”

Besides scopolamine, other popular drugs being used by criminals include depressants that suppress the central nervous system (barbiturates), sleeping pills (hypnotics) and sedatives.

By Elizabeth Merab, Daily Nation

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