Home Business What is Captagon, the addictive drug mass produced in Syria? | Drug News

What is Captagon, the addictive drug mass produced in Syria? | Drug News

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Captagon looms large in regional diplomatic discussions as some Arab countries seek to normalize relations with Syria.

The addictive amphetamine-like stimulant, mass-produced in Syria and smuggled to Gulf countries, appeared to be a bargaining chip for President Bashar al-Assad in negotiations over Syria’s reintegration into the Arab League, as nations sought to curb the illicit drug trade.

At a meeting of Arab foreign ministers on May 1 in Amman, Damascus agreed to cooperate with Jordan and Iraq to identify sources of drug production and smuggling, according to a statement from the Jordanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

A week later, a top Syrian drug trafficker and his family were killed in air raid attributed to Jordan in southern Syria.

Here’s what you need to know about this drug and why it’s been so big recently:

Where was Captagon invented?

Captagon was the brand name of a psychoactive drug produced in the 1960s by the German company Degussa Pharma Gruppe. It was primarily prescribed as a treatment for attention deficit disorder, narcolepsy, and as a central nervous system stimulant.

Captagon tablets contained fenetylline, a synthetic drug from the phenethylamine family to which amphetamine also belongs.

In 1986, fenetylline was included in Schedule II of the 1971 United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances, and most countries stopped using Captagon. The International Narcotics Control Board said in 2011 that no country had produced fenetylline since 2009.

But production hasn’t really stopped, has it?

As official production ceased, some of the remaining stocks were exported clandestinely from Eastern Europe, particularly Bulgaria, to the Middle East.

Eventually, new counterfeit tablets labeled Captagon were produced in the 1990s and early 2000s in Bulgaria, according to a 2018 study. report by the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction. The drugs were then smuggled out of the country by Balkan and Turkish criminal networks to the Arabian Peninsula.

Severe crackdowns by Turkish and Bulgarian authorities on production, including the closure of 18 mostly large-scale laboratories involved in the synthesis of amphetamines, have led to a drastic reduction in trade from the Balkans.

A customs officer displays Captagon pills, part of 789 kg (1,739 pounds) of confiscated drugs, before their incineration in Sofia, Bulgaria, in 2007 (Nikolay Doychinov)

Why does Syria make so much Captagon?

In 2011, after a brutal government crackdown on anti-Assad protesters, Syria descended into civil war. Internationally isolated and torn by fighting, the country is plunged into an economic crisis.

Although Damascus denies any involvement in the trade, observers say the production and smuggling of the drug has earned billions of dollars for al-Assad and his associates and allies as they sought an economic lifeline.

According to a New Lines Institute reportthe Syrian government uses “local alliance structures with other armed groups such as Hezbollah for technical and logistical support in the production and trafficking of Captagon.”

Experts say most of the world’s Captagon production is now in Syria, with the wealthy Gulf states the main destination.

What are Jordan and the Gulf States doing about it?

Since last year, countries that have smuggled large quantities of Captagon across their borders have stepped up efforts to stem the flow from Syria.

In February 2022, the Jordanian military said it had killed 30 smugglers since the start of the year and foiled attempts to smuggle 16 million Captagon pills into the kingdom from Syria, surpassing the total volume seized all along. throughout 2021.

In late August 2022, Saudi authorities made their largest seizure when they discovered 46 million amphetamine pills that were clandestinely hidden in a shipment of flour.

A spokesperson for the General Directorate of Narcotics Control in Souadi said it was “the largest operation of its kind to smuggle such a quantity of narcotics into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in a single operation “.

In February 2023, a man was arrested at Abu Dhabi Airport, United Arab Emirates, after attempting to smuggle 4.5 million Captagon tablets in cans of green beans.

What is the rest of the world doing?

Although the drug is relatively unknown outside the Middle East, countries including the United Kingdom and the United States have raised concerns about its production in Syria.

Both countries imposed new trade-related sanctions on Syrians this year. A UK government statement said 80% of global Captagon production is produced in Syria and is a “financial lifeline” for the Al-Assad regime, “worth around 3 times the combined trade of the Mexican cartels”.

He also said Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed militias facilitate the industry “and, in doing so, fuel regional instability and create a growing dependency crisis in the region.”

In December 2022, the United States also introduced the Captagon Act, which requires U.S. agencies to target illicit trade amid fears that drugs might appear on U.S. shores.

How did Captagon bring Syria back into the Arab League?

The desire of Arab League members to stop the production and trade of Captagon outside Syria appears to have been a crucial bargaining chip for Damascus.

A Jordanian official at the Arab foreign ministers’ meeting on May 1 said Syria should show it is serious about reaching a political solution, as that would be a condition for pushing for peace. lifting of Western sanctions, a crucial step to finance reconstruction in Syria. .

Saudi Arabia, which remains the largest market for the drugs, also sought assurances as it discussed normalizing relations with Damascus.

The kingdom supported rebel groups fighting government forces in the early years of the war. But more recently, it has expressed its desire to ease relations as part of a broader change in regional diplomacy, notably a rapprochement with Iran.

After the Amman meeting, the foreign ministers of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Syria said Damascus had agreed to “take necessary measures to end smuggling at the borders with Jordan and Iraq.

So who was the drug lord killed in Syria?

Foreign ministers from the 22 Arab League countries voted in favor of Syria’s return at a meeting in Cairo on Sunday.

Just one day later, Marai al-RamthanA suspected Syrian drug trafficker and his family were killed in an air raid in southern Syria, an attack attributed to Jordan, according to a war monitor.

Al-Ramthan was considered “the most important drug trafficker in the region and the leading trafficker of drugs, including from Captagon, to Jordan”, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said, based in the UK.

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