Captagon is turning Syria into a narco-state

Source: The Guardian

The manufacture of Captagon in the regime’s heartland has become one of Syria’s only recent business success stories; a growth industry so big and sophisticated that it is starting to rival the GDP of the flatlining economy itself.

At least 15 shipments of the drug had been intercepted in the Middle East and Europe in the past two years. Six police and intelligence officials in the Middle East and Europe have told the Guardian that all were shipped from Syria’s Captagon heartland, or across the frontier in Lebanon, where a network of untouchables – crime families, militia leaders, and political figures – have formed cross-border cartels that make and distribute industrial-scale quantities of drugs.

The research organization the Centre for Operational Analysis and Research, which focuses on Syria, recently released a report highlighting the role of Captagon and hashish in the country, where the economy has been crippled by a decade of war, western sanctions, entrenched corruption, and the collapse of Lebanon, where billions of dollars have disappeared in the pit of the country’s banking system.

“Syria is a narco-state with two primary drugs of concern: hashish and the amphetamine-type stimulant Captagon,” the report says. “Syria is the global epicentre of Captagon production, which is now more industrialised, adaptive, and technically sophisticated than ever.

“In 2020, Captagon exports from Syria reached a market value of at least $3.46bn [£2.5bn]. Though conjectural, a market ceiling significantly higher than this is distinctly possible. Although Captagon trafficking was once among the funding streams utilised by anti-state armed groups, consolidation of territorial control has enabled the Assad regime and its key regional allies to cement their role as the prime beneficiaries of the Syrian narcotics trade.”

In July last year, the biggest ever haul of the drug, with a street value of more than €1bn (£870m), was intercepted in the Italian port of Salerno, which is believed to have been intended as a waypoint en route to Dubai.

What is Captagon?

Captagon is one of several brand names for the drug compound fenethylline hydrochloride. A stimulant with addictive properties, it is used recreationally across the Middle East and is sometimes called a “poor man’s cocaine”. It is also used by armed groups and regular forces in battle situations, where it is seen as having properties that boost courage and numb fears.

How does Captagon reach the world from Syria and Lebanon?

The border between Syria and Lebanon is redundant, a lawless zone where smugglers operate with the complicity of officials on both sides. The smugglers move precursors and finished products, both hashish and Captagon, along a route that takes Lebanon’s Bekaa valley, the Syrian border town of Qusayr, and the roads north through the Alawite heartland of the Assad regime, towards the ports of Latakia and Tartus.


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