War Drugs: Syria Seizes 14 Million Captagon Amphetamine Pills
The Captagon economy is thought to be worth at least five billion dollars, and anti-narcotics law enforcement groups across the Middle East have warned that the market continues to grow.
Syria’s Interior Ministry reported on Wednesday that law enforcement officers had seized fourteen million pills of “Captagon,” a popular amphetamine widely manufactured in Syria and sold throughout the Middle East, in the large Syrian port city of Latakia.
The bust—which came on the heels of a similar seizure from Latakia of 249 kilograms’ worth of pills concealed in heavy machinery—netted the Syrian government 2,103 kilograms of Captagon, or roughly 2.3 tons. It represents the largest seizure of pills within Syria in years, although Middle Eastern officials have altogether seized around 145 million pills during the first half of 2022, according to AFP.
Initially manufactured during the 1960s as a mild alternative to stronger amphetamines, Captagon was first used as a prescription to treat narcolepsy and depression. However, it has seen far more widespread use as a “party drug” among wealthy elites in the Gulf, where its psychostimulant properties are used to keep partygoers active for longer hours. It has also been used by migrant workers in the Middle East in order to work into the night.
Captagon’s more infamous use, however, has been in combat in Syria and Iraq, where it is widely used to keep soldiers awake and alert and to foster a feeling of invincibility. At the beginning of the conflict, nearly all sides in the Syrian Civil War, including the publicly drug-averse Islamic State (ISIS) terror group, manufactured the drug, both for their soldiers’ use and as a lucrative export to fund military activity. However, following the Assad government’s consolidation of power in southern and western Syria, the country has emerged as the world’s largest producer of Captagon, which regime and business elites illicitly manufacture and export as a way to earn revenue and evade heavy international sanctions. Syrian allies, most notably the Hezbollah militia-turned-political party, have been implicated in trafficking pills from Syria into the capitals of the wealthy Persian Gulf states.
The Captagon economy is thought to be worth at least five billion dollars, and anti-narcotics law enforcement groups across the Middle East have warned that the market continues to grow. Although the Syrian government has been widely blamed for the drug’s circulation, it has denied involvement in its manufacture and has periodically seized smaller amounts, possibly in an effort to show that its law enforcement agencies remain vigilant against drug trafficking.
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.