INT: Syria is largest narco-state as it earns more from Captagon

Captagon is a synthetic stimulant composed of amphetamine and caffeine, and it is an internationally-recognized illegal drug (UNODC, 2021).

Syria has become the biggest narco-state in the world, as the horribly addictive amphetamine it produces, which is known as Captagon or “poor man’s coke”, has turned out to be the country’s economic lifeline and its biggest export product, earning more than 90 per cent of the country’s foreign currency.

Notably, Collins Dictionary defines a “narco-state” as a country in which the illegal trade in narcotic drugs forms a substantial part of the economy.

Captagon is a synthetic stimulant composed of amphetamine and caffeine, and it is an internationally-recognized illegal drug (UNODC, 2021).

In 1961, a German pharmaceutical company first introduced Captagon to treat health conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, narcolepsy and depression. However, after a few years, scientists realized the drug’s addictive properties and its adverse effects on mental and physical health and so the drug was banned.

Captagon is one of the most popular recreational drugs (party pills) among the youth in the Gulf states. It is also, used by armed men for the feeling of invincibility it creates and for this reason, it is sometimes called “Captain Courage” or “Jihadi magic potion”. Moreover, it is used by dieters, students cramming for exams and people who have to work double shifts or at night or take two jobs to make ends meet.

The price of the pill at the time of manufacture can be just USD 1, but as it has to pass various routes and checkpoints to reach buyers, a lot of bribes have to be paid by the smugglers, soldiers, the secret police, various warlords, and corrupt customs officials and so its price goes to up USD 14- 20.

According to experts, Syria is the country currently producing the largest quantities of Captagon which is exported primarily to the Gulf region. As many countries have imposed sanctions or stopped trading with Syria following the brutal crackdown on protesters by President Bashar al-Assad in 2011, the regime, in collaboration with Lebanon’s Hezbollah, stepped up the production and export of the drug mainly to Gulf countries.

Growth in the production and use of illicit drugs has assumed such alarming dimensions that the US last year introduced the Captagon Act, linking its trade to the Assad regime in Syria and describing it as a “transnational security threat.”

Captagon pills have been found hidden in packages of milk, cardboard rolls, egg cartons, crates of fresh fruit and machinery. They have also been found buried in shipments of tea and milk, while the smugglers constantly surprise authorities as they hide the pills in quite unlikely places.

The Centre of Operational Analysis and Research reported in 2021 that the Assad regime has turned Syria into “the global epicentre of Captagon production, which is now more industrialised, adaptive, and technically sophisticated than ever.”

Every year there are several reports about the confiscation of millions and millions of Captagon pills. The largest seizure occurred in the port of Palermo in Italy in July 2020, when the Italian Police confiscated from a ship coming from the Syrian port of Latakia, more than 84 million Captagon pills, weighing approximately 15 tons and having an estimated street value of one billion dollars.

In August 2022, customs officers at Istanbul’s Ambarli Port seized 12.3 million Captagon pills, weighing a total of 2.09 tons. The pills were discovered in a shipping container.

The following month, Saudi authorities seized about 47 million pills of the illicit drug that were hidden in a flour shipment and seized at a warehouse in the capital Riyadh.

In December Jordan Customs officials seized one ton of amphetamine pills being smuggled in date paste at the border with Iraq. A total of six million Captagon pills were found inside two refrigerated lorries.

Last Friday Lebanon’s security forces seized about 10 million Captagon pills that were to be smuggled to Senegal and then on to Saudi Arabia.

From time to time, the regime in Syria attempts to show the world that it tries to combat the production and export of Captagon from its territory. On 29 June 2022, Syrian counter-narcotics units seized a record haul of 2.3 tonnes of Captagon, while earlier in a raid they carried out discovered 249 kilos of Captagon hidden in steel machinery inside containers ready to leave the Mediterranean port of Latakia.

The UK government recently imposed new sanctions on the Bashar al-Assad regime, stressing that drugs are a lifeline for the Syrian state, as it estimates that it earned about USD 57 billion from illegal Captagon exports, an amount worth approximately three times the combined trade of the Mexican drug cartels.

It is now a well-known fact that powerful figures closely associated with Bashar al-Assad are involved in all the stages of production, smuggling and distribution of Captagon. According to a New York Times report, Maher al-Assad, the younger brother of the Syrian President, who commands the 4th Armoured Division, oversees much of the production and distribution of Captagon.

Bashar al-Assad can use the control of the production and export of Captagon pills as a bargaining chip in his relations with the Gulf States who are pondering whether to accept Syria back to the Arab fold. He can promise to reduce the production and exports of Captagon, if these states and especially Saudi Arabia- restore full diplomatic relations with Damascus. Otherwise, he can flood them with huge additional quantities of the highly addictive drug.

However, no matter, what promises he may give to the Arab leaders, it is quite unlikely that Bashar al-Assad will stop entirely the production of Captagon in Syria, as the drug is the lifeline of his regime and its biggest export product.

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Tags: Amphetamines Drug Trafficking Stimulants

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