Captagon has figured prominently in regional diplomatic discussions as some Arab countries seek to normalize relations with Syria.
The addictive amphetamine-type stimulant mass-produced in Syria and smuggled into Gulf states appeared to be a bargaining chip for President Bashar al-Assad in talks over Syria’s reinstatement as a member of the Arab League as nations sought to curb illicit drug trafficking.
At a May 1 meeting of Arab foreign ministers 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 high-profile Syrian drug trafficker and his family were killed in an air raid Attributed to Jordan in southern Syria.
Here’s what you need to know about the drug and why it’s been such a big deal recently:
Where was the Captagon invented?
Captagon was the trade name for a psychoactive medication produced in the 1960s by the German company Degussa Pharma Gruppe. It was mainly prescribed as a treatment for attention deficit disorder, narcolepsy, and as a central nervous system stimulant.
The 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 discontinued the use of Captagon. The International Narcotics Control Board said in 2011 that no country had produced fenetylline since 2009.
But production didn’t really stop, did it?
When official production ceased, some of the remaining stock was smuggled out of Eastern Europe, particularly Bulgaria, into the Middle East.
Eventually, new counterfeit tablets labeled Captagon were produced between the 1990s and early 2000s in Bulgaria, according to a 2018 report. 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.
Strict crackdowns on production by the Turkish and Bulgarian authorities, which included the closure of 18 mostly large-scale laboratories involved in the synthesis of amphetamine, resulted in a drastic reduction in the Balkan trade.
Why is Syria now producing so much Captagon?
In 2011, after a brutal government crackdown on anti-Assad protesters, Syria plunged into civil war. Internationally isolated and ravaged by fighting, the country plunged into an economic crisis.
Although Damascus denies any involvement in the trade, observers say the production and smuggling of the drug have brought al-Assad, his associates and allies billions of dollars in their search for 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 the Jordanian and Gulf states doing about it?
Since last year, countries that had large amounts of Captagon passing through their borders have intensified efforts to stop the flow from Syria.
In February 2022, Jordan’s military said it had killed 30 smugglers since the start of the year and thwarted attempts to smuggle 16 million Captagon pills into the kingdom from Syria, exceeding the total volume seized over the course of the year. 2021.
In late August 2022, Saudi authorities made their biggest seizure ever, discovering 46 million smuggled amphetamine pills hidden in a shipment of flour.
A spokesman for the Swadi Directorate General for Narcotics Control said it was the “biggest operation of its kind to smuggle this amount of narcotics into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in a single operation.”
In February 2023, a man was arrested at Abu Dhabi airport in the United Arab Emirates after he tried to smuggle 4.5 million Captagon tablets in green bean tins.
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 sanctions on trade-related Syrians this year. A UK government statement said 80 percent of the world’s Captagon is produced in Syria and is a “financial lifeline” for the al-Assad regime “worth about 3 times the combined trade of the Mexican cartels.” “.
He also claimed that Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed militias facilitate the industry “and in doing so fuel regional instability and create a growing addiction crisis across the region.”
In December 2022, the US also introduced the Captagon Act, which forces US agencies to attack the illicit trade amid fears that the drug could wash up on US shores. USA
How did Captagon get Syria back into the Arab League?
The desire of Arab League members to stop Captagon production and trade outside of 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 would have to show it was serious about seeking a political solution because this would be a condition for pushing for the lifting of Western sanctions, a step crucial to finance the reconstruction in Syria. .
Saudi Arabia, which remains the biggest market for the drug, also sought reassurances as it discussed normalizing ties with Damascus.
The kingdom supported rebel groups fighting government forces in the early years of the war. But more recently, he has shown a desire to soften relations as part of a broader shift in regional diplomacy, including a rapprochement with Iran.
After the meeting in Amman, the foreign ministers of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Syria said Damascus had agreed to “take the necessary steps to end smuggling on the borders with Jordan and Iraq.”
So who was the drug lord killed in Syria?
Arab League foreign ministers from 22 nations 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 airstrike in southern Syria, an attack attributed to Jordan, according to a war monitor.
Al-Ramthan was considered “the most prominent drug trafficker in the region and the number one smuggler of drugs, including Captagon, in Jordan,” the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said.