Captagon: Unraveling the complexities of a controversial stimulant used by terrorists and “Pharmaceutical Soldier” – Performance Enhancing Drugs on the Battlefield


Captagon, the trademark name for the synthetic stimulant Fenethylline, has been a subject of intrigue and controversy since its inception in 1961.

Originally intended for the treatment of hyperactivity, depression, and narcolepsy, Captagon quickly gained notoriety due to its addictive and hallucinogenic properties.

This article delves into the history, pharmacology, and societal impact of Captagon, shedding light on its complex nature.

Captagon’s Evolution: From Smart Drug to Illicit Substance

Captagon, a drug with a complex history, has transitioned from being a legally prescribed pharmaceutical substance to an illicit drug with a shadowy presence in the world of narcotics. Its journey began in the early 1960s when it was first introduced by the Degussa Pharma Group in Germany under the trademark name “Captagon®.”

Initially, it was widely prescribed by primary care physicians and psychiatrists to treat various medical conditions, including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, abulia, brain injuries, depression, and narcolepsy.

The active ingredient in Captagon was fenethylline, which belonged to the amphetamine-type stimulant (ATS) family and metabolized into a combination of 13.7% theophylline and 24.5% amphetamine when taken orally.

This unique composition made it stand out as a “smart drug” with lower perceived side effects and abuse potential compared to other pharmaceuticals available at the time.

For almost a decade, fenethylline gained widespread acceptance as an effective treatment. However, as the 1970s unfolded, reports began to emerge regarding the negative side effects and addictive nature of Captagon.

Simultaneously, new pharmaceutical alternatives started flooding the market. Over the course of the 1970s, governments began to incrementally impose restrictions on the drug. In 1981, fenethylline was classified as a controlled substance, and in 1986, it was scheduled under the U.N. Convention on Psychotropic Substances (1971).

This international scheduling marked the beginning of a rise in counterfeiting activities primarily in Europe and the Middle East. Consequently, by 2009, global fenethylline stocks had been exhausted, signaling the end of Captagon’s tenure as a pharmaceutical substance.

It is important to note that the Captagon available today differs significantly from the original formulation containing fenethylline. In this report, we use “captagon” to refer to the contemporary version: an ATS often mixed with various cutting agents, creating a wide range of compositions. This diversity in composition complicates efforts to monitor the drug’s production, trafficking, and use.

Following the international scheduling of Captagon®, counterfeit tablets started to gain popularity, particularly in regions eastward of Europe. While the scheduling curtailed the majority of pharmaceutical production processes, factories and laboratories in countries like Serbia, Slovenia, Montenegro, and Bulgaria continued the illicit production of Captagon. These counterfeit tablets were then trafficked to emerging destination markets in the Arabian Peninsula through routes that often passed through Turkey and the Levant. Some of these early producers may have used leftover stocks of fenethylline to kickstart their operations.

Bulgaria played a significant role in the illicit production of Captagon, with state-owned pharmaceutical company Pharmachim receiving a license for production in 1981. Bulgarian and Soviet facilities coordinated efforts to develop the technology for Captagon’s chemical formulation and tablet production, establishing cross-country production lines.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Captagon and other synthetic drugs saw a surge in popularity. Bulgarian factories redirected their production cycles to continue supplying the Middle East’s illicit demand while also serving the domestic and Eastern European markets.

This period witnessed the dispersion of Bulgarian chemists and their production expertise across Eastern Europe and the Levant, contributing to a rise in ATS-related production and trafficking activities in countries like Turkey, Czechoslovakia, and Serbia.

The demand for ATS in southeastern Europe began to wane in the late 1990s. As a result, large-scale Captagon production in Bulgarian factories was gradually replaced by smaller-scale, mobile laboratories operating in the Middle East.

The fall of the Soviet Union and the transition to democratic governments in the Balkans brought increased law enforcement scrutiny during the mid-1990s. This led to a reduction in domestic activities of chemists, laboratory production staff, and traffickers, who often relocated their operations to evade detection.

The Levant: Captagon’s Production Capital

The illicit drug trade has a long and complex history that is intertwined with global geopolitics, organized crime, and clandestine production. One notable facet of this underground economy is the production and trafficking of Captagon, a potent amphetamine-based stimulant.

After a decline in production in Bulgaria, Syria and Lebanon emerged as natural successors in the mid-2000s. This article delves into the evolution of Captagon production in the Levant, tracing its roots from Bulgaria to the Middle East and its influence on the region’s economy, politics, and society.

Bulgaria’s Role in the Emergence of Captagon Production

Throughout the 1990s, Bulgaria played a significant role in the production of Captagon. The country’s pharmacists, chemists, and individuals involved in the black-market drug trade established crucial contacts in the Middle East, with a particular focus on Syria.

These contacts, often with organized crime groups, laid the foundation for a thriving Captagon production network in the region.

Notably, Bulgaria and Syria developed a unique scientific and technical partnership. In return for technical collaboration, Syria sent its chemists to study in Bulgaria and engaged in extensive exports, primarily involving precursor chemicals and equipment.

The collaboration between state-affiliated Bulgarian and Syrian pharmaceutical companies fostered the exchange of technical and scientific expertise. This cooperation also facilitated the establishment of clandestine labs for Captagon production, mainly in Syria and along the Lebanese-Syrian border.

Shift in Production to the Levant

By the mid-2000s, law enforcement agencies and drug control organizations observed a significant shift in Captagon production patterns. There was a drastic decrease in seizures of Captagon in Europe after 2004, signaling that production was moving away from Bulgaria. Lebanon witnessed its first recorded Captagon facility raid in 2007, marking the Levant’s rise as the new production capital. Several factors contributed to this transition:

  • Proximity to Destination Markets: Syria and Lebanon are geographically closer to the primary consumer markets in the Arabian Gulf, significantly reducing detection risks and transportation costs for producers and traffickers.
  • Vulnerable Political Systems: Both Syria and Lebanon had fragile, developing economies and susceptible political systems. These conditions made them attractive destinations for illicit drug production due to the potential for corruption and collusion with criminal networks.

Historical Context: Illicit Drug Trade in the Levant

Captagon production was not the first instance of the illicit drug trade in the Levant. The hashish trade thrived in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley during the 1980s and 1990s, with involvement from Hezbollah networks, the Lebanese state, and even Syrian armed forces during their occupation of Lebanon in the early 2000s.

The post-war period in Lebanon, following the Israel-Lebanon war in 2006 and the country’s civil war, created desperation among various factions, leading to the exploration of alternative revenue sources. This opened up space for the illicit drug trade to flourish.

The Changing Target Consumer Market

As Captagon’s production shifted to the Levant, so did its target consumer market. The drug, which was previously popular in southeast Europe, found a new customer base among the wealthy youth in the Persian Gulf, particularly in Saudi Arabia.

 Some studies estimated that up to 40 percent of drug users in Saudi Arabia consumed Captagon. However, it is essential to note that due to the cultural taboo and strict legal penalties surrounding drug use in the Persian Gulf, there is limited data on the prevalence of Captagon use, and studies on the topic should be approached with caution.

Emerging Abuse Crisis in the Gulf

Captagon has been identified as a significant factor in an emerging abuse crisis in the Persian Gulf region. Its use coincides with modernization reforms, growing youth unemployment, and, critically, the absence of adequate harm reduction and drug treatment services.

The widespread availability of Captagon and its role as a readily accessible escape from societal pressures have raised concerns about its impact on Gulf youth and society as a whole.

The Alarming Spread of Drug Trade from Syria and Lebanon: A Multi-Faceted

The illicit drug trade, a global concern, has found fertile ground in the conflict-ridden regions of Syria and Lebanon. The roots of this issue trace back to the 1950s when Lebanon was known for its cannabis cultivation.

Over the decades, drug trade has evolved, particularly with the involvement of Hezbollah since the 1990s. This article delves into the intricate web of drug trafficking, the economic crisis, and the actors involved in this burgeoning problem, from Syria to the Middle East and even reaching Europe and beyond.

The Economic Crisis and Limited Governance

The economic crises in Syria and Lebanon have exacerbated the drug trade. These crises, coupled with inadequate governance, have given rise to this flourishing illicit industry. Poverty-stricken local residents turn to drug production and trafficking as a means to support their families.

The Syrian regime, desperate for alternative income sources due to economic sanctions, has also become involved. In 2022, drug exports from Syria alone yielded an astonishing $25-30 billion, dwarfing the meager $800 million from legal exports.

The lure of immense profits is evident, with the production cost of one pill at just 3 cents. The market prices vary significantly, ranging from $1-2 in Syria and Lebanon to a staggering $25 in Saudi Arabia.

The Syrian Regime’s Involvement

The drug industry in Syria is now managed by the regime itself, orchestrated by operatives from the state’s military and security entities, along with the complicity of Hezbollah.

The notorious Division 4, commanded by Maher el-Assad, Bashar al-Assad’s younger brother, oversees the security of drug production and the supply chain. Notably, even businesses outside the drug industry, including those in the food and packaging sectors, have shifted their focus towards drug trade.

Some facilities, previously involved in manufacturing chemical weapons, have been repurposed for the production of Captagon. Laboratories are strategically located in Aleppo, Homs, Hama, Tartus, and Latakia, all areas under regime control.

These laboratories are responsible for producing hashish and Captagon, which are then smuggled from Latakia port to various destinations worldwide, including Lebanon.

Hezbollah’s Involvement and Denials

Hezbollah, despite its religious ban on drug production and distribution, has come under scrutiny for its alleged involvement in the drug trade. Some members of the organization have suggested that the sale of drugs to “enemies” is permissible, but the group’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, consistently denies any involvement.

The region near the Syrian border, under Hezbollah’s control, has become a hub for the production and smuggling of Captagon pills. The low production cost and the use of readily available machinery for drug production have enabled this illicit industry to flourish.

The Spread to Neighboring Countries

Just as the Syrian conflict and the issue of refugees have spilled over into neighboring countries, the drug trade follows a similar path. Syrian and Lebanese drug smugglers exploit the weak governance in these countries to traffic drugs to neighboring nations, including Iraq, Lebanon, and Jordan.

The primary focus for drug smugglers is the Gulf states, with Saudi Arabia being a leading consumer. There are concerns that the Syrian smuggling networks could potentially be used for more dangerous drugs, like crystal meth.

Tensions with Saudi Arabia

In 2021, drug smuggling from Lebanon led to a significant crisis in relations with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. Several smuggling attempts were foiled, and the Saudis even banned agricultural imports from Lebanon when a smuggling attempt involving 5 million Captagon pills hidden in agricultural produce was uncovered.

This prompted the Lebanese government to take measures to increase security and prevent smuggling, eventually leading to the lifting of the ban. Nevertheless, smuggling continued, with the alleged involvement of Hassan Mahmoud Dako, known as the “Captagon King,” who was arrested and sentenced but continues to operate with the help of Hezbollah.

Jordan’s Battle Against Smuggling

Jordan, acting as a gateway to the Gulf states, has seen a doubling in drug smuggling volumes from Syria and Lebanon in 2022. While the country invests significant efforts in combating smuggling, it has also faced challenges from internal consumption of drugs.

There have been clashes between the Jordanian army and Syrian drug smugglers, revealing the involvement of Syrians with military training and fears of damage to the social fabric within the kingdom.

Expansion to Egypt and Beyond

Egypt, keen to prevent the entry of drugs and other narcotic substances, has tightened its customs procedures for goods arriving from Syria and Lebanon. However, the reach of this drug trade extends far beyond the Middle East, with drugs making their way to Europe, specifically Italy, Greece, and Spain, and even Malaysia. Approximately 80% of Captagon distributed worldwide originates from Syria.

International Efforts

Russia and the United States, the two prominent global powers involved in Syria, have discreetly taken measures to address this issue. Russia conducts military patrols near the Jordanian border to thwart smuggling attempts, while the United States, initially hesitant to take a stance, recently passed a law against Captagon in 2022 to dismantle the Syrian regime’s drug production and dealing networks and support regional allies in curbing the trade.

Their concern is not only regional instability but also the fear that these drugs could infiltrate their own territories due to links between the Syrian regime, Hezbollah, and drug cartels in Central America.

Terrorist Organizations and Illicit Drug Trade

In the context of your provided information, the nexus between Captagon, militant warfare, and jihad is a complex and evolving issue. Terrorist organizations have been involved in illicit drug markets as a means to generate political and economic capital. This involvement provides them with funds, employment opportunities, and a way to expand their local political allegiance. The use of Captagon, a powerful amphetamine, has been associated with some of these organizations, particularly in the Syrian conflict.

  • Terrorist Organizations and Illicit Drug Trade: While there are indications of the involvement of terrorist organizations in local illicit Captagon production and smuggling, the extent of their involvement remains uncertain. Institutions like the UNODC have suggested that groups like ISIS, the Free Syrian Army, and Al Nusra have facilitated the smuggling of chemical precursors for Captagon production.
  • Captagon and Jihad: It’s noteworthy that the use of Captagon contradicts Islamic doctrine, but some terrorist organizations have justified its consumption under Sharia law, presenting it as a medical necessity due to its productivity-enhancing qualities.
  • ISIS and Captagon: ISIS has garnered significant media attention for its reported use of Captagon to fuel its violent campaigns and territorial acquisition. As the organization lost territory in Syria and Iraq, it turned to black-market trades, with Captagon becoming a part of its micro-financial model. This trade enabled ISIS to raise funds for mobility and future transnational attacks. However, the exact nature of ISIS’s involvement in Captagon production and trafficking remains uncertain.
  • Misattributions and Incorrect Reports: There have been instances of misattribution and incorrect reporting regarding the link between Captagon and terrorism. For example, it was often incorrectly reported that the 2015 attack in Paris and campaigns in Iraq and Syria were fueled by Captagon’s effects. In reality, Captagon use extends beyond terrorism to other demographic groups.
  • Changing Landscape: With the decline of ISIS in the region, the landscape of the Syrian war economy has evolved. New actors have emerged to fill the void left by the organization’s territorial defeat, engaging in taxation, cross-border smuggling, and transit facilitation services.

Clashes Over Captagon Smuggling and Production

  1. Aug. 13, 2020: Violent clashes erupted between Lebanese Hezbollah and the pro-regime National Defense Forces (NDF) in Qunaytirah governorate. The clashes were sparked by a disagreement over drug dealing in the region.
  2. Nov. 27, 2020: Jordanian Armed Forces and personnel in the Narcotics Control Department killed “a number” of Syrian smugglers.
  3. Feb. 19, 2021: Jordanian Armed Forces killed two smugglers and arrested several others, seizing an unspecified amount of captagon.
  4. May 19, 2021: In a battle with 11 Syrian smugglers, Jordanian Armed Forces killed three, injured and arrested two before seizing 1,307,665 captagon pills. The six other smugglers fled back into Syria.
  5. June 2, 2021: Jordanian Armed Forces seized 377,000 captagon pills after a clash with Syrian smugglers.
  6. Aug. 2, 2021: A Lebanese Army Intelligence Directorate force raided a captagon production laboratory in Hor Ta’la in the Bekaa Valley, resulting in one smuggler being killed and one Lebanese soldier wounded.
  7. Aug. 7, 2021: Jordanian Armed Forces killed one smuggler and wounded several others on the Jordanian-Syrian border.
  8. Nov. 29, 2021: Jordanian Armed Forces killed one smuggler and wounded another as they attempted to enter Jordan from Suwayda, Syria.
  9. Dec. 25, 2021: Jordanian Armed Forces fought an estimated 200 Syrian smugglers armed with machine guns entering Jordan between Syria’s Suwayda and Daraa provinces.
  10. Jan. 16, 2022: Armed smugglers killed Jordanian Armed Forces Capt. Mohammed Al Khadeirat and wounded three other Jordanian border guards during a confrontation in which Jordanian forces seized 5 million captagon pills.
  11. Jan. 26, 2022: Jordanian Armed Forces killed 27 smugglers and wounded several others who were attempting to take advantage of a snowstorm along the Syrian-Jordanian border to smuggle “large amounts” of captagon.

Copyright – Sources: The Syrian Observer, Shaabjo, Arab News,  The Jordan Times, Al Arabiya News, North Press Agency Syria,  The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights, The National News

Suspected Participants in Captagon Production and Smuggling

Targeted by U.S. sanctions

Maher al-Assad: Bashar al-Assad’s younger brother and head of the Syrian Army’s Fourth Division. Maher has been linked to overseeing a captagon factory in al-Basa, Latakia, and manufacturing centers along the Syria-Lebanon border in the Qalamoun Mountain range.

Khodr Taher: Businessman in Syria’s agricultural sector and contractor for the Fourth Division with extensive access and influence over Fourth Division checkpoints. Linked to taxing licit and illicit drug flows across Syrian border areas, including captagon smuggling.

Amer Khiti: Member of the Syrian Parliament and livestock, real estate, shipping and transport, and construction magnate who owns packaging facilities affiliated with industrial-sized captagon smuggling from state ports.

Rami Maklouf: Bashar al-Assad’s cousin, whose charitable foundation has been found to have employees who have participated in captagon production and smuggling at government-sanctioned manufacturing warehouses.

Not targeted by U.S. sanctions

Wasim Badia al-Assad: A cousin of Bashar Al-Assad who controls local militias in Latakia and is affiliated with drug operations in Latakia, shell companies, and with black market warlords in the Bekaa Valley, situating production sites close to state-owned ports, using commercial transportation methods for smuggling, and making use of clientele networks in local agricultural, pharmaceutical, and transportation industries.

Mohammad Shalish: State-affiliated business magnate linked to drug operations in the Latakia region and the co-owner of the vessel management company Neptune Overseas Limited LLC with Taher Al Kayali, which has been implicated in a series of captagon smuggling operations.

Taher al Kayali: State-affiliated business magnate linked to smuggling operations in and from Latakia, situating production sites close to state-owned ports, using commercial transportation methods such as his cargo ship Noka and vessel management company Neptune Overseas Limited LLC as well as criminal networks in Italy and Libya.

Hassan Muhammad Daqqou: Syrian-Lebanese businessman and land developer with projects in al-Tufayl under the Caesar construction firm, close to the Lebanese-Syrian border in the Qalmoun region, with commercial activities and close ties with Hezbollah and the Syrian regime. Dubbed the “King of Captagon” in Libya, he has been affiliated with drug smuggling efforts with Hezbollah and Syria’s Fourth Division to Greece, Saudi Arabia, and Malaysia.  He and his three brothers were arrested by Lebanese state officials in April 2021.

Abdellatif Hamid: A factory owner and businessman with close relations with the Assad family who was implicated in the Port of Salerno seizure, providing the industrial-sized paper rolls to shroud captagon pills.


Notable Worldwide Captagon Seizures

  1. July 1, 2020, Port of Salerno: Italy’s Guardia di Finanza Napoli identify 84 million tablets hidden inside industrial cardboard cylinders transported on a cargo ship in one of the largest amphetamine hauls in history.
  2. May 17, 2021, Iskenderun Port: Turkish forces seize 6.2 million pills in Hatay province near the Turkish-Syrian border.
  3. Dec. 27, 2021, Zarqa Governorate: Jordan’s Public Security Directorate seizes 250,000 pills near the Syrian and Saudi Arabian border.
  4. Nov. 8, 2019, Hong Kong: Customs authorities seize 1.57 million tablets at the Kwai Chung Customhouse Cargo Examination Compound. The transshipment container, valued at $245 million, was headed to Saudi Arabia from Syria. The pills were found hidden inside 84 sofas.
  5. March 24, 2021, Port of Klang: Malaysian law enforcement officials seize 94.8 million tablets hidden inside rubber trolley wheels.
  6. Aug. 30, 2020, Constanta Port, Romania: 4 million pills hidden inside organic soap containers are seized by police and customs officials.
  7. Sept. 3, 2021, Apapa Sea Port: Nigerian officials seize 451,807 captagon tablets traced to Lebanon.
  8. Nov. 30, 2021, Damietta Port, Egypt: Egyptian customs officials seize 11 million tablets hidden inside water filter packages.
  9. July 23, 2021, Al-Haditha Port, Saudi Arabia: 2.1 million tablets hidden inside tomato paste can lids transported on trucks are intercepted by Saudi Arabian customs officials after a thorough X-Ray examination.
  10. Dec. 29, 2021, Port of Beirut: Lebanese authorities seize over 9 million pills hidden inside plastic oranges destined for Saudi Arabia.
  11. Nov. 30, 2021, Damascus, Syria: Syrian law enforcement authorities seize  1,160 pounds of tablets – the first publicly recorded seizure in years – transported in a van and hidden in pasta packages, sprayed with pepper spray to divert sniffer dogs and law enforcement detection. 
  12. Jan. 13, 2022, on the islands of Rhodes and Kastellorizo in Greece: Law enforcement authorities identify 181,000 tablets at Rhodes and 80,000 captagon tablets at Kastellorizo. The tablets were encased in plastic bags with a counterclockwise swastika logo and were believed to be discarded from a larger vessel traveling the Mediterranean.
  13. Nov. 23, 2021, Kabd area: Kuwaiti Ministry of Interior officials identify 17 kilograms of tablets contained in plastic bags smuggled inside the intestines of live sheep.

Sources: Guardia di Finanza,  Jordan’s Public Security Directorate, Hong Kong’s Customs and Excise Dept., Romania’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, Saudi Zakat, Kuwait Ministry of Interior

Saudi customs officials in Jeddah Islamic Port foiled an attempt to smuggle 5.3 million captagon pills in a consignment of pomegranates imported from Lebanon. (Saudi Press Agency)

Captagon pills are pictured in this undated Saudi smuggling bust. – Saudi Interior Ministry

Syria and the Levant’s Escapism Amidst Chaos

The civil war in Syria has left an indelible mark on its people, compelling them to find ways to cope with the trauma and despair that has become synonymous with this prolonged conflict. In recent years, a disconcerting trend has emerged – the proliferation of Captagon, a synthetic drug known for its euphoric effects.

Captagon has become a coping mechanism for many Syrians, offering an escape from the grim realities of war and political turmoil, providing feelings of invincibility and strength. This chapter delves into the rise of Captagon in Syria and its influence across the Levant region.

The Allure of Captagon in Syria

Captagon, scientifically known as fenethylline, is a psychoactive drug that has gained notoriety for its ability to induce a sense of euphoria and heightened alertness in users. In war-torn Syria, where the burden of the civil conflict has taken a severe toll on the population, the accessibility and affordability of Captagon have contributed to its widespread usage.

Tablets of Captagon can be procured for as little as 1,255 Syrian pounds (approximately $0.50) for lower-quality variants, while higher-quality pills can cost up to 20,000 Syrian pounds ($7.96) in government-held areas such as Latakia.

The stark difference in prices highlights the geographical disparities in Captagon’s distribution and consumption. In destination markets like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar, consumers pay substantially higher prices per tablet, making it a lucrative trade for smugglers.

Traumatized Syrians, who have endured the horrors of war and political turmoil, have found solace in Captagon’s intoxicating effects. It offers them a temporary respite from the relentless violence and instability that surrounds them, granting a fleeting illusion of invincibility and strength in the face of adversity. This allure has made Captagon a common choice for those seeking escape in the midst of chaos.

The Prevalence of Captagon in Syrian Society

Despite the lack of concrete data, it is apparent that Captagon has firmly embedded itself in Syrian society. Reports suggest that consumption rates have risen among various demographic groups, including students, youth, internally displaced citizens, and refugees since the outbreak of the civil war.

A 2020 cross-sectional survey conducted in two major civil prison systems in Damascus and Daraa identified Captagon as the second-most-popular substance among incarcerated Syrians, ranking just below hashish.

The survey also revealed that obtaining Captagon was distressingly easy, with sources ranging from dealers and pharmacies to friends and even doctor’s prescriptions. This alarming accessibility has fueled the drug’s prevalence and ensured its deep-rooted presence in Syria’s social fabric.

Lebanon: A Hub for Captagon Consumption

The neighboring country of Lebanon has also fallen victim to the Captagon epidemic. Economic disintegration and political turmoil, exacerbated by events such as the October 2019 protests and the devastating August 2020 Beirut Port explosion, have pushed over half of the Lebanese population below the poverty line.

The collapse of the Lebanese lira, plummeting GDP, and political paralysis have created a hostile environment in which illegal revenue streams and drug use have become appealing alternatives.

Organizations such as the Skoun Lebanese Addictions Center reported an increase in Captagon consumption among Lebanese youth in 2019, who often consume the drug in combination with other substances.

However, the perception that Captagon is a “softer” drug compared to cocaine and methamphetamine, combined with its pharmaceutical legitimacy from a historical standpoint, has deterred many users from seeking healthcare or rehabilitation services.

A Jan. 1, 2021, raid on a captagon laboratory in Boudai, Lebanon, by a Lebanese intelligence patrol resulted in several arrests and seizures of tablets and production equipment. (Lebanese Army Command)

Jordan: A Smuggling Route and Growing Consumer Market

Jordan, strategically located on the overland smuggling route to Persian Gulf markets, has not remained immune to the Syrian Captagon trade’s influence.

The country faces the risk of witnessing an expanding consumer market due to its stalling economy, the impact of COVID-19, and drops in remittances. The rise in trafficking across Jordanian territories is evident in recent clashes with drug smugglers and an 87% increase in Captagon seizures between 2013 and 2018.

This escalating issue has caused serious concerns among Jordanian law enforcement agencies. The Secretary General of the Economic and Social Council, Mohamed Al-Nabulsi, expressed these concerns, stating, “We used to be proud that Jordan was [only] a transit country, but now it is a host country, and there are a large number of cases of drug addiction and drug trafficking [in Jordan].”

Iraq: Emerging as a Potential Market

While Iraq has seen fewer recorded Captagon seizures compared to Jordan and Lebanon, the deteriorating political and economic conditions make it fertile ground for a potential expansion of the Captagon trade.

The first half of 2021 saw a string of major seizures of nearly 60 million tablets originating from Syria. This marked a significant increase, estimated to be over 20 times larger than the combined seizures of 2019 and 2020.

Iraqi officials have reported that Captagon has become the second-most-popular drug consumed among its citizens, surpassing heroin, Tramadol, and hashish. This alarming trend underscores the far-reaching impact of the Syrian Captagon trade, with Iraq emerging as a new market for the drug.

Gulf and Mediterranean Destination Markets: The Pervasive Use of Captagon

Captagon, a powerful amphetamine-based drug, has become a notorious presence in both the Gulf and Mediterranean regions, fueling a concerning rise in addiction and contributing to the illicit drug trade. This article delves into the complex web of socio-economic factors that drive Captagon’s consumption in these diverse destination markets.

Captagon’s Prevalence in the Gulf and Mediterranean

The use of Captagon in the Gulf and Mediterranean destination markets is propelled by a multitude of socio-economic elements. The Gulf countries, particularly those rich in oil reserves, face a unique set of challenges that make them ripe for the proliferation of this dangerous substance. These nations exhibit a significant disparity in wealth, with a growing youth population and persistently low employment rates, despite various social reforms. This socioeconomic landscape has fostered an environment where Captagon, alongside other drugs like khat and cannabis, finds its way into the hands of many.

Captagon’s presence in the Persian Gulf, while acknowledged, remains relatively underexplored and the data available is often outdated. Several studies have shown that Captagon enjoys popularity among the youth in these Gulf countries, and it is also prevalent among the migrant worker populations. In some instances, Captagon has been reported as the second-most used substance, as observed in a cross-sectional survey conducted among Saudi Arabian medical students in 2010.

A 2015 study revealed that Captagon was a favored drug among Saudi Arabian users, primarily among the age group of 12 to 22. The reasons cited for usage were varied and included peer pressure, emotional voids, family issues, and mental health concerns. Notably, this study was conducted over seven years ago when Saudi Arabia was emerging as one of Captagon’s largest destination markets, accounting for over half of the seizures in the Middle East.

A December 2020 Foreign Policy article, featuring interviews with anonymous Saudi Arabian users, exposed one of the primary drivers for Captagon use – boredom, particularly among young users. It is said that Captagon is popular and cheaper in Saudi Arabia’s northern provinces, such as Tabuk, where the Department of Statistics reported that 80% of the country’s total Captagon consumption takes place. In these regions, consumers have been known to purchase directly from traffickers due to their proximity to smuggling routes.

One of the most recent studies, conducted in 2021, has found that Captagon’s popularity has increased due to a growing class divide and widespread boredom among the youth. The worsening economic conditions have also opened up opportunities for trafficking and dealing among the working-class population. Beyond recreational use, the drug’s effects on productivity and alertness have attracted foreign worker populations in the Gulf, especially those employed in the hospitality, construction, and transportation sectors.

The Expanding Influence of Captagon

The prevalence of Captagon is not limited to the Gulf and Mediterranean regions. Recent reports suggest a growing global presence, particularly in Europe. While European ATS (Amphetamine-Type Stimulants) markets are not currently dominated by Captagon, there are concerning signs that this may change in the near future.

Smugglers increasingly use European ports as transit points, increasing the risk of Captagon retail markets taking hold in Europe. The United Nations has noted that, both in Europe and worldwide, the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent quarantine measures have led to an uptick in drug consumption. The demand for narcotics has increased, even in the face of supply chain disruptions caused by border closures and travel restrictions.

In summary, while the European ATS market is primarily controlled and supplied by European producers, the emergence of industrial-sized shipments of affordable Captagon could disrupt this market. The potential infiltration of Captagon into Europe adds a new dimension to the global challenge of combating the drug’s spread. Captagon’s ever-expanding reach underscores the need for international cooperation and vigilant measures to curb its manufacture, trafficking, and consumption. The complex socio-economic factors that fuel its prevalence in destination markets, as seen in the Gulf and Mediterranean, require a comprehensive approach involving both enforcement and social support to tackle this growing crisis.

Market Trends and Seizure Statistics: The Expanding World of Captagon Trafficking

The captagon market, shrouded in secrecy and intrigue, has witnessed a significant transformation in recent years.

With the onset of Syria’s civil war, the production and distribution of this illicit amphetamine-based drug have grown exponentially.

While the exact dimensions of the Syrian captagon market remain elusive, law enforcement seizures have provided valuable insights into the dynamics of its production and distribution.

Seizure Statistics as Indirect Indicators

While the total scale of the Syrian captagon market is challenging to quantify, seizures by law enforcement agencies around the world provide indirect reflections of the market’s growth and demand. The surge in large-scale captagon seizures since the commencement of Syria’s civil war has been a strong indication that production has increased significantly. This capter delves into the evolving trends in captagon trafficking, focusing on the primary destination markets, changing smuggling methods, and the potential implications of normalization efforts in the region.

Primary Destination Markets

Since captagon’s emergence in Syria, several countries in the Middle East have been the primary destination markets with high-frequency seizures. These include Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Jordan, and, intriguingly, even within Syria itself.

The Gulf region, traditionally a major consumer of captagon, has been at the forefront of these seizures. Moreover, there has been a noticeable increase in the interception of captagon in the Levant, suggesting the trade’s continued prevalence through both land routes and containerized maritime shipments.

The Turkish Shift

In the mid-2000s, Turkey was a significant destination market for captagon. Border authorities recorded a substantial increase in captagon seizures, with numbers skyrocketing from 144,121 tablets in 2012 to a staggering 4.48 million tablets in 2013. However, Turkish operations in northern Syria disrupted smugglers’ access to many border crossings, leading to increased captagon shipments to existing Persian Gulf markets during the latter half of the war. This shift highlights the flexibility and adaptability of captagon traffickers in response to changing circumstances.

Rising Seizures in Gulf States

In recent years, there has been a notable increase in captagon seizures in Gulf states. Syrian producers and traffickers have identified new smuggling routes to these destination markets, increased production rates, and adopted containerized shipping methods. Saudi Arabian ports, in particular, have emerged as major hubs for captagon seizures, with the largest interceptions at the Port of Jeddah and King Abdulaziz International Port in Dammam. Despite the advanced detection systems at these ports, customs officials typically rely on tip-offs and intelligence-sharing efforts to identify large shipments.

Syrian Government Involvement

The Syrian government’s role in captagon production and trafficking is a matter of intrigue. While there have been occasional publicized smaller-scale seizures of captagon, often affiliated with opposition forces, these may be performative efforts aimed at obfuscating state involvement, deflecting blame, and improving the government’s image. Notably, in 2021, the Syrian government publicized a rare seizure of over 5,000 kilograms of captagon tablets in a van destined for Saudi Arabia, shortly after a U.S. congressional amendment sought to counter the captagon trade.

Expanding Transit Routes

As Persian Gulf customs officials have become more vigilant in inspecting shipments from the Levant, captagon traffickers have exploited alternative transshipment points in Europe and Africa. They reroute shipments intended for the Gulf, making it harder to trace the origin of the drugs and reducing the likelihood of inspection. One of the most significant trends in recent times has been the trafficking of huge quantities of captagon through commercial maritime routes via containerized shipments, a method that has helped evade detection at busy transshipment hubs.

New Criminal Networks

This trend has also led to the formation of new relationships between African and European criminal networks, making it harder for law enforcement and customs authorities to track captagon shipments. Some captagon seizures have been detected far from southern European maritime ports, such as in Salzburg, Austria, and Limburg, the Netherlands, suggesting that smugglers have established strong links with European crime syndicates.

Normalization Efforts

The onset of incremental normalization efforts between Arab states and the Syrian government has influenced seizure data and could potentially shift captagon transit routes. These normalization efforts, aimed at addressing cross-border trade and reconstruction opportunities, have made the captagon trade a dominant agenda item.

 Additionally, a tacit agreement between Jordan and Syria to limit the flow of captagon shipments into Jordan could lead to a shift in illicit flows eastward to transit routes between Syria and Iraq, offering continued proximity to Persian Gulf destination markets and protection from foreign state-aligned proxy networks.

The Sleepless Soldiers: How Military Research is Pushing the Boundaries of Wakefulness

“Forcing our enemies to perform continuously without the benefit of sufficient daily sleep is a very effective weapon.” To win this war of exhaustion, we must “manage fatigue among ourselves.” We must drug our troops to outlast yours. You, in turn, must drug your troops to keep up. On the battlefield of the future, there is no sleep but death. -U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (Saletan, 2013)

Who uses PROVIGIL/Modafinil?

  • U.S. Air Force as a replacement for Amphetamines or “Uppers” (Kamienski, 2018)
  • French Foreign Legion
  • Indian Air Force
  • United Kingdom Military
  • Astronauts-International Space Station – “” “Numerous ground-based studies on shift work staff have shown that zolpidem can improve sleep quality and increase sleep duration, though it may lead to decreased mood the following day. Melatonin, on the other hand, is primarily used to shift the circadian rhythm and has shown modest improvements in sleep efficiency during circadian misaligned sleep episodes. In animal experiments, Midazolam nasal gel spray, with its sedative and hypnotic effects, is seen as a promising option for use in flight due to its rapid effect and high bioavailability. Astronauts often turn to stimulants to combat drowsiness during missions, as evidenced by the use of amphetamines in the Apollo 7 mission and caffeine or modafinil in later missions. Caffeine is particularly effective for enhancing alertness, cognition, and performance during sleep deprivation. Although caffeine acts the fastest, it has more side effects compared to modafinil, which proved effective with minimal side effects. Moreover, Chinese researchers have explored the potential of Traditional Chinese Medicine, such as Ginsenoside Rh1, to counteract cognitive impairment caused by sleep deprivation, showing promise in this area.”
  • Peoples Republic of China has approved PROVIGIL/Modafinil-however China has a similar formula called Night Eagle (SCMP, 2011)

In an era of rapid technological advancements and increasing global tensions, the armed forces of the world are constantly seeking to gain an edge over their adversaries. Among the myriad technologies and strategies under development, one area has attracted particular attention – the ability to keep soldiers awake beyond the limits of normal endurance. This remarkable capability is being pursued through the use of chemically enhanced troops, with one drug, in particular, taking center stage: modafinil. This chapter explores the global pursuit of chemical wakefulness among military personnel and the ethical, logistical, and strategic implications it raises.

Chemical Wakefulness Goes Global

All around the world, scientists are delving into the realm of chemical wakefulness, experimenting on soldiers to extend their operational hours beyond what was previously considered achievable. The primary focus of this research is modafinil, a drug that has become the subject of military-sponsored studies in numerous countries.

The United States leads the way, conducting experiments through agencies like the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory. Other nations such as Canada, China, the Netherlands, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and India are also engaged in similar studies. These experiments primarily aim to evaluate modafinil’s effectiveness in extending soldiers’ ability to function without sleep, especially in high-stress situations, such as combat.

The Modafinil Revolution

Why has this pursuit of extended wakefulness gained so much traction? The answer lies in its immediate and tangible benefits. Unlike other superhuman enhancements we’ve fantasized about, such as genetic engineering or mechanical exoskeletons, the goal here is relatively modest. The objective is not to make soldiers superhuman but to restore their cognitive performance to a baseline level, compensating for the deficits caused by sleep deprivation.

The published experimental reports consistently use phrases like “sustain,” “maintain,” or “restore” baseline performance and describe modafinil as a “countermeasure” to counteract the negative effects of sleep deprivation. The urgency behind this research is underscored by the fact that military forces cannot afford to have their personnel succumb to sleep in the midst of critical operations.

Historical Context

The use of stimulants among soldiers is not a new phenomenon. Throughout history, military forces have employed various substances to keep troops alert and awake. The British famously relied on tea, the Prussians experimented with cocaine, and coffee and tobacco have been staples in many armies. In World War II, amphetamines found widespread use, and the U.S. military officially approved their use in 1960. Today, all four branches of the U.S. armed forces authorize the use of dextroamphetamine under specific conditions, while the Army even rations caffeine gum. The logic behind these stimulants was to help soldiers stay awake for a few extra hours.

Modafinil, however, represents a significant refinement in this field. First proposed for military use in 1989, it offers a more precise and controlled approach. Unlike amphetamines and caffeine, modafinil has shown less addictiveness, less cardiovascular stimulation, and less interference with scheduled sleep. The primary focus of military-sponsored studies is not to determine modafinil’s efficacy but to narrow the effective dosage and minimize side effects.

The Drive for Enhanced Wakefulness

The driving force behind this pursuit of chemical wakefulness is the urgent need to save lives in the context of military operations. Fatal accidents, mission failures, and friendly fire incidents have been attributed to sleep deprivation among soldiers. The conflict between human needs and technological capabilities in the military world has been widely acknowledged. Aircraft may function effectively for extended hours, but pilots cannot. This recognition has prompted the development of innovative solutions to bridge the gap between human limitations and the demands of modern warfare.

This evolving quest for enhancement has seen the evolution from the use of stimulants to more advanced combinations, including hypnotics to induce sufficient sleep before a mission, followed by stimulants to keep soldiers alert. Experiments have become more ambitious, with some researchers speculating that modafinil could enable troops to function effectively for weeks with as little as four hours of sleep per night.

Even when well-rested, soldiers may struggle to maintain adequate vigilance during extended periods of duty, particularly overnight. This has led to the administration of drugs to maintain peak performance in otherwise rested troops. These measures are deemed therapeutic because combat is considered an inherently abnormal environment, imposing extreme conditions that degrade optimum duty performance and increase soldier risk.

The Global Arms Race of Wakefulness

As multiple countries invest in research to enhance military personnel’s wakefulness, a new kind of arms race has emerged. This race does not involve conventional weapons or armor but centers on the quest for wakefulness. In this race, military forces must continually manage and mitigate the effects of fatigue on their troops, seeking an edge over their adversaries.

A report by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory underscores the importance of this development, as it recognizes the potential to force enemies to perform without sufficient sleep as an effective weapon. To prevail in this war of exhaustion, nations must not only manage their troops’ fatigue but also ensure that they remain more awake and alert than the enemy.

Pharmacology and societal impact of Captagon

Pharmacology of Captagon

Captagon is metabolized into two main substances, Amphetamine and Theophylline, which collectively contribute to its pharmacological effects.

Amphetamine, the predominant metabolite, is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant with a wide range of effects. It can increase alertness, enhance concentration, boost physical performance, and induce a sense of well-being, confidence, and aggression.

Amphetamine is used medically to treat conditions like obesity, narcolepsy, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, it’s also known for its agonistic effects on central 5-HT receptors and its potential to inhibit monoamine oxidase (MAO), leading to hallucinations, violent behavior, loss of appetite, and more.

Theophylline, the other metabolite of Captagon, bears similarities to caffeine but has a narrower therapeutic window due to its unwanted side effects, including cardiac dysrhythmia, seizures, gastrointestinal disturbances, and drug interactions.

Unique Properties of Captagon

Captagon’s distinct characteristics set it apart from Amphetamine and Theophylline.

It is more lipophilic, allowing for easier absorption into the CNS and faster onset of stimulating effects. Additionally, the penetration of Amphetamine into brain tissue following its release from Fenethylline lags behind that of directly administered Amphetamine.

This difference might explain why Captagon is considered less addictive than pure Amphetamine. Furthermore, Captagon does not raise blood pressure significantly, as Theophylline has vasodilating properties, making it safer for individuals with cardiovascular disorders.

Societal Impact

Captagon is known to be a fuel for conflict in the Middle East. Fighters who consume Captagon or Amphetamines often experience a sense of well-being, euphoria, and invincibility, which can be exploited to suppress pain and increase aggression on the battlefield.

Its use is not limited to soldiers, as civilians in areas marked by hopelessness and helplessness also turn to these substances. The lucrative nature of Captagon has led to numerous seizure cases in the Middle East and Europe, as reported by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

The Need for Research

Despite being synthesized in 1961, research on Captagon’s addictive mechanisms, potential drug interactions with Amphetamine and Theophylline, side effects, and detailed interactions between these compounds and their targets have been relatively scarce. This knowledge gap has persisted for over five decades, leaving many questions unanswered.

Bridging the Gap

To address the lack of research in this field, computational systems pharmacology analyses have been carried out to dissect the pharmacological intricacies of Captagon and its metabolites. These analyses have led to several crucial findings.

First, it was discovered that Amphetamine is the primary culprit in Captagon addiction, while Theophylline can mitigate its effects by blocking adenosine receptors in the brain.

Second, molecular docking studies were conducted to explore the detailed interactions between Amphetamine, Theophylline, and their respective targets, shedding light on the molecular basis of their actions.

Finally, the side effects of Amphetamine and Captagon were investigated through off-target predictions using chemogenomics knowledge and computational tools focused on hallucinogenic effects. These findings hold the potential to inform drug abuse and addiction treatments.

In conclusion, Captagon remains a controversial and enigmatic substance, with a complex history and pharmacology.

Its societal impact, particularly in regions of conflict, cannot be understated. Despite being in existence for over half a century, significant gaps in our understanding of this drug persist. Ongoing research is crucial to shed light on the mechanisms underlying Captagon’s effects, which, in turn, may aid in developing strategies for addressing its misuse and addiction.

An Ever-Shifting Formula: The Enigma of Captagon’s Precursors and Contents

Captagon, the notorious synthetic drug known for its stimulant properties, has long been an elusive subject of study due to the ever-shifting nature of its chemical formula and precursors. This article delves into the intricate world of captagon production, smuggling, and use, shedding light on the challenges of tracking its precursors and the constantly evolving composition of these potent tablets.

Captagon is a synthetic drug that has captured international attention due to its potent stimulant effects. However, one of the most challenging aspects of tracking the patterns of captagon production, smuggling, and use is assessing its precursors and the constantly shifting chemical formula. Unlike other drugs in tablet form, such as MDMA pills produced in Europe or methamphetamine pills produced in the Golden Triangle, captagon tablets exhibit a significantly higher variability in their contents.

Typically, captagon tablets are known to contain amphetamine; however, they have been found to contain methamphetamine on occasion, in addition to various other adulterants. This variability in captagon composition has caused confusion in reporting seizures and monitoring the use of the drug. This variability is likely influenced by the high volatility in accessing precursors and producers in Syria, who make use of whatever chemicals they have at hand to manufacture the pills.

By the mid-2010s, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and other institutions raised alarms related to the increase in counterfeit captagon tablets. These counterfeits are often produced with unknown precursors and contain an array of additional substances and cutting agents due to low stocks of precursor chemicals.

Broadly, there are three forms of illicit precursor supply channels for amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) like captagon: extracting them from legal pharmaceutical products (e.g., pseudoephedrine contained in cold-and-flu pills), importing foreign-manufactured precursors, and illicit domestic manufacturing.

Acquiring or manufacturing precursor chemicals is a common challenge for illicit drug producers, necessitating extensive financial investment, chemical knowledge, and access to non-scheduled substances and equipment.

Law enforcement agencies and international institutions, such as the UNODC and International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), have acted as obstacles for captagon and other synthetic drug producers searching for precursors such as phenylacetic acid, ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, alpha-phenylacetoacetonitrile, and benzyl methyl ketone (BMK).

In 2016, international agencies raised concerns about increased Syrian state imports of precursor chemicals. This is alarming considering the link between state-affiliated actors and illicit captagon production, which will be explored further in this article.

According to the INCB’s annual report as of November 1, 2020, Syria submitted an annual estimate of its legitimate precursor chemical requirements, including 2,000 kilograms of ephedrine and a staggering 50,000 kilograms of pseudoephedrine.

Syria’s reported pseudoephedrine requirements surpass those of the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Canada, and are just under half that of Switzerland, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical and biotech hubs. The reason for such large pseudoephedrine imports in Syria remains unexplained.

In the early 2000s, captagon producers primarily sourced precursor substances from Bulgaria and Turkey, as evidenced by law enforcement seizures of BMK and phenylacetic acid. However, since then, the landscape has shifted, and changing precursor availability has had a significant effect on the content of captagon tablets.

Chemical profiling tests that have been conducted on captagon tablets have determined that the drug most often includes amphetamine and various adulterants, including allopurinol, paracetamol, diphenhydramine, procaine, lactose, ephedrine, metronidazole, theophylline, chlorphenamine, chloroquine, acetaminophen, caffeine, quinine, metronidazole, trimethoprim, P-2-P methyl glycidate, and other substances that could cause further harm to consumers. In some cases, captagon tablets have been found to contain methamphetamine rather than amphetamine, which can have much more serious health consequences, especially at higher doses.

Recent laboratory analyses have identified an uptick in the production of captagon with higher variability in the purity of amphetamine. An October 2021 study that surveyed captagon pills seized in Saudi Arabia’s Jazan region assessed that tablets contained between 16.29% and 41.23% amphetamine, along with significant levels of additives such as caffeine, lidocaine, diphenhydramine, and 8-chlorotheophylline.

Some earlier lab analyses, such as studies conducted by Greek and Dutch law enforcement in 2016 and 2017, identified tablets marketed as captagon manufactured with no amphetamine at all, just consisting of concentrated caffeine.

Moreover, a series of Saudi Arabian toxicological analyses found toxic levels of zinc and nickel in some captagon tablets. The high doses of amphetamine identified in some captagon tablets create risks of dependence, nerve damage, cardiovascular challenges, muscular breakdown, and neurotoxicity, while many of the additive compounds have been associated with nerve-blocking, ventricular tachycardia and bleeding, affecting neurotransmission, and other harmful side effects.

Taken together, the high variability in the content of captagon tablets poses a high risk to the health of the user, and public health systems will likely be challenged to deal with the harmful consequences of captagon use.

In the past two years, evidence has emerged of the production of different captagon pills, potentially targeted at different markets and consumers based on their perceived “quality” level. Currently, there are seemingly three main types of captagon pills: white tablets, yellow-brown tablets, and pink tablets. Pills primarily exported to foreign destination markets exhibit a whiter color and are considered better quality, reflected in higher prices.

Captagon pills produced and distributed inside Syria, often sold at cheaper prices, are yellowish-brown or pinkish in color, though there are reports of white tablets being sold at higher prices near production sites in Latakia.

The yellow pills, often referred to as “Ya Masharni,” “Capti,” and “0.1” on the streets in Levantine countries and “Zero One” in Iraqi markets, are mealy and supposedly decrease appetite and increase productivity and focus.

 The pink pills are often called “strawberry” and supposedly increase feelings of sexual desire and invincibility. Based on eyewitness accounts, both yellow and pink captagon pills tend to be of lower quality compared to the white pills.

The ever-shifting formula and precursors of captagon continue to pose a complex challenge for authorities, and the health risks associated with the drug’s variable composition make it a pressing concern for public health systems and law enforcement agencies. As the landscape of captagon production and distribution evolves, understanding its chemistry and origins remains crucial for addressing this global issue.

Figure 1

Metabolic scheme of Captagon (Fenethylline). Captagon when orally dosed will go through the oxidative metabolism via cytochrome P450 (CYP450) enzyme, and in final be metabolized into 24.5% Amphetamine and 13.7% Theophylline. Amphetamine is the main cause of addiction, while Theophylline reduces the behavioral sensitization to repeated Amphetamine exposure, thus explain the less addictiveness of Fenethylline than Amphetamine.

The Dark Underworld of Fenethylline: Prevalence and Use of ‘Captagon’

Fenethylline, a powerful amphetamine-type stimulant, is more commonly known on the streets as ‘captagon.’ In Arabic drug markets, it also goes by the name ‘Abu Hilalain.’

This synthetic drug has a long and dark history, predominantly associated with abuse in Arab countries. Over the last decade, its use has surged, making it a significant concern for law enforcement and healthcare authorities.

Fenethylline, scheduled as a controlled substance in 1981, has been clandestinely produced in various regions, primarily in southern Europe, and trafficked to consumer markets in the Arabian Peninsula. In recent years, it has also been synthesized within Arab countries and sold at varying prices.

This article explores the prevalence and use of fenethylline, with a particular focus on the illegal market, trafficking, and its impact on users.

The Illicit Production and Trafficking

The illicit production of fenethylline is a cause for concern, as it is manufactured through a relatively inexpensive and straightforward process. Notably, southern European countries like Bulgaria, Slovenia, and Serbia-Montenegro have become hotspots for its production.

Traffickers route fenethylline through Turkey to reach consumer markets on the Arabian Peninsula. The ease of manufacturing and its high demand make fenethylline a lucrative commodity for traffickers.

This has led to significant concerns regarding its connection with criminal organizations, including the involvement of groups like the Islamic State and al Nusra Front in the smuggling of chemical precursors for fenethylline production, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Early Signs of Trafficking

The first notable data regarding the trafficking of captagon was reported by Interpol in Germany in 1984. A study conducted among drug abusers in the Federal Republic of Germany from 1976 to 1983 revealed an alarming increase in captagon use.

Over this period, the prevalence of captagon use among drug abusers rose from 11% to 16.1%, with street addicts experiencing an even more dramatic increase, from 30.6% in 1976-1979 to 51.3% in 1983. The sudden surge in captagon abuse during the first half of 1984 was primarily attributed to the unavailability of cocaine and its high cost in Germany.

Syria’s Role in Fenethylline Production

Syria, with its strategic position in the Middle East, has been a traditional hub for the production, consumption, and export of amphetamines, including captagon. This dangerous drug is believed to be used by militant groups to enhance their endurance during battles.

Remarkably, it plays a central role in the Syrian civil war. Experts in the field, along with local activists, reported a significant acceleration in captagon production within Syria in 2013.

Furthermore, it is suspected that the annual revenues from captagon production and trafficking in Syria are used to fund the purchase of weapons, exacerbating the conflict.

High Seizure Rates in the Middle East

The three countries reporting the highest captagon seizures are Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria. Syria, historically a transit point for drugs from Europe, Turkey, and Lebanon destined for Jordan, Iraq, and the Persian Gulf, has long struggled with drug trafficking.

Jordan, due to its geographical location between drug-producing countries in the north and drug-consuming countries in the south and west, has also become a major transit country for captagon tablets, both counterfeit and genuine.

Astonishingly, despite the ban on fenethylline in Jordan in 1988, reports indicate an increase in the number of captagon abusers.

Global Spread and Usage

In addition to the Middle East, captagon has been detected in North Africa as early as 2013, indicating its global spread. The reasons for its use are diverse, with students turning to fenethylline to stay awake before final exams, and individuals, particularly women, using it as an anorectic agent for weight loss.

Notably, the drug is also prevalent among wealthier individuals in the Middle East. According to the United Nations and the National Committee for Narcotics Control and Anti-Drug and Preventative Affairs, captagon is the primary amphetamine-type stimulant consumed on the Arabian Peninsula, with approximately 40% of drug abusers in Saudi Arabia reporting its use.

Moreover, affluent young citizens in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar have been identified as significant users of captagon.

Diverse Routes of Administration

The routes of administration for captagon are diverse, encompassing ingestion, subcutaneous injection, intravenous injection, and intraperitoneal administration. This versatility in consumption methods highlights the drug’s appeal to a broad range of users.

Use Among Soldiers and Militants

Captagon is notorious for its use among soldiers, particularly in conflict zones. It enables soldiers to fight for extended periods with minimal sleep, without experiencing fatigue or a significant decrease in alertness or performance. This phenomenon is particularly concerning in conflict zones, where militants fight relentlessly, often without regard for their own well-being.

Notably, captagon is believed to be used by jihadist fighters, including those associated with the Islamic State.

It is often consumed alongside other hallucinogenic pills to enhance their combat fervor.

The drug induces a sense of well-being, extra energy, and euphoria, allowing militants to stay awake for days on end, maintain high levels of motivation, and withstand the physical pain of battle. Users under the influence of captagon feel invincible and impervious to harm.

Impact on User Behavior

The influence of captagon on user behavior is both striking and alarming. Users, whether protesters, fighters, or drug abusers, have reported peculiar behaviors under the influence of the drug. Some have described a lack of sensitivity to pain, even while enduring severe physical trauma.

Others have reported laughing in response to heavy physical blows, suggesting a concerning disconnect between the drug’s effects and the perception of physical harm.

Counterfeit Captagon Tablets

Since the late 1980s, counterfeit captagon tablets have emerged, primarily in the Saudi Arabian drug market but also in Europe and Turkey.

These counterfeit tablets are often marked with the captagon logo, but their composition differs significantly from the genuine drug. Analysis of these counterfeit tablets has revealed the presence of amphetamine and amphetamine-type derivatives, caffeine, theophylline, quinine, ephedrine, acetaminophen, diphenhydramine, lactose, and other substances, with the absence of fenethylline. The proliferation of counterfeit tablets further complicates efforts to combat the illegal trade of captagon.

Seizures of Captagon and the Ongoing Battle Against Clandestine Laboratories

In recent years, the global community has witnessed a surge in seizures of clandestine laboratories, particularly those involved in the production of Captagon. Captagon is a powerful synthetic stimulant, and its illicit production and trade have gained notoriety across several countries, including Bulgaria, Slovenia, Serbia-Montenegro, and Turkey.

The international response to this issue has been spearheaded by organizations like Interpol and the International Narcotics Control Board, who have documented a series of alarming incidents. These seizures have brought to light the complex and evolving landscape of the illegal drug trade. This article explores the history, production, and global impact of Captagon seizures.

The Emergence of Captagon

Captagon, also known by its chemical name fenethylline, was initially developed in the 1960s as a combination of amphetamine and theophylline. It was used as a prescription medication to treat conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. However, the drug’s potential for abuse quickly became apparent, leading to its classification as a controlled substance.

Austrian Tight Control

Austria was among the first countries to impose strict controls on Captagon, effectively shutting down its legal sources in 1979. Despite these controls, the 1980s witnessed a surge in seizures of Captagon tablets being trafficked to the Arabian Peninsula. This was an early indication of the international demand for the drug.

Seizures in the Early 2000s

In the early 2000s, seizures of Captagon tablets continued to increase. In March 2002, Turkish authorities confiscated 107.5 kg of fenethylline. Six months later, over 1.4 million Captagon tablets were seized in Syria en route to Saudi Arabia. Bulgaria reported two additional seizures of 75.03 kg and 39.7 kg of fenethylline in March 2003. In 2003, Saudi Arabian authorities seized a substantial 291 kg of fenethylline. This number skyrocketed to 12.3 tons in 2006, highlighting a concerning trend of stimulant consumption in the region during the early 21st century.

Rapid Increase in Turkey

Between 2011 and 2012, the Hatay Province in southern Turkey reported a significant increase in Captagon-related narcotic crimes. Out of 383 total reports, 25 were related to Captagon, with 84% of the tablets seized in 2012. Toxicological analyses revealed that many of these seized tablets were counterfeit and contained amphetamines, theophylline, and caffeine.

The amount of seized Captagon tablets in Hatay Province surged from 144,121 in 2012 to a staggering 4,483,632 tablets in 2013. The situation worsened in 2014 when Turkish authorities confiscated 7 million tablets en route to Saudi Arabia, reportedly produced in Syria with raw materials from Lebanon.

Lebanon’s Role in Production and Seizures

Lebanon emerged as a key player in the production of Captagon tablets. In 2013, Lebanese authorities reported the seizure of over 12.3 million Captagon tablets. Subsequently, in April 2014, Beirut security forces intercepted 15 million Captagon capsules concealed in shipping containers filled with corn, bound for the international market.

International Implications

The global nature of the Captagon trade became evident in October 2015 when Saudi Arabian Prince Abdel Mohsen Bin Walid Bin Abdulaziz and four others were detained in Beirut on drug trafficking charges.

Authorities seized two tons of Captagon tablets and cocaine from a private jet bound for Riyadh. In November 2015, Turkish authorities seized 2 tons of Captagon on the Syrian border, totaling approximately 11 million tablets destined for Arab Gulf states. Remarkably, 7.3 million of these tablets were concealed within oil filters.

Counterfeit Operations and Germany’s Involvement

Counterfeit Captagon tablets also became a concern. In 1981, German authorities seized 962,000 counterfeit Captagon tablets. Two years later, German police confiscated 400,000 counterfeit boxes of Captagon tablets along with 4.5 million counterfeit tablets intended for the Near East. Captagon was imported into Italy from Belgium, France, and Germany via the black market.

Clandestine Laboratories in Serbia

In the same period, clandestine laboratories in Serbia were discovered producing counterfeit Captagon tablets. These laboratories were among the largest in Europe, manufacturing tons of amphetamine salts marked with the characteristic Captagon logo. Analysis of these tablets revealed the absence of fenethylline, with amphetamine salts, caffeine, quinine, ranitidine, aminopyrine, and various diluents making up the bulk of the tablets’ composition.

Dubai’s Seizure

In 2013, Dubai made a significant seizure of counterfeit Captagon tablets, with an individual charged for the possession of 4.2 million tablets and other psychotropic substances intended for sale on the streets. This operation was considered one of the most significant seizures of amphetamines before the materials were transferred to Saudi Arabia.

The captagon trade represents a complex and multifaceted challenge that demands a coordinated global response. While the exact dimensions of the market remain elusive, the surging trends in production and trafficking call for immediate action. By addressing public health concerns, enhancing international cooperation, and engaging in diplomatic efforts, the international community can begin to unravel the enigma of captagon and mitigate its far-reaching consequences. It is a formidable task, but it is a task that the world must undertake to protect the well-being and security of individuals and regions affected by this dangerous trade.


The captagon trade represents a complex and multifaceted challenge that demands a coordinated global response. While the exact dimensions of the market remain elusive, the surging trends in production and trafficking call for immediate action. By addressing public health concerns, enhancing international cooperation, and engaging in diplomatic efforts, the international community can begin to unravel the enigma of captagon and mitigate its far-reaching consequences. It is a formidable task, but it is a task that the world must undertake to protect the well-being and security of individuals and regions affected by this dangerous trade.

Appendix: Notable Captagon Seizures, 2015 to 2022
DateLocation of bustOrigin-destination# of tabletsDetails
Nov 19, 2015Turkey (Hatay)Syria – Persian Gulf10,900,000Hidden among a shipment of oil filters bound for Persian Gulf states
Dec 22, 2015Turkey (Hatay)N/A1,680,000Hidden inside a shipment of primary school desks
Dec 29, 2015Lebanon (Beirut Airport)N/A – Egypt30,000,000*Hidden inside desks at a primary school
Jan 4, 2017France (Charles de Gaulle Airport)Lebanon – Saudi Arabia350,000German and Czech law enforcement identified tablets hidden in industrial molds exported from Lebanon
Feb 1, 2017France (Charles de Gaulle Airport)N/A402,000*Hidden inside steel molds
March 3, 2017Greece (Elefsina)Turkey – N/A635,000Tablets stashed in specially-made crypts inside of a truck transporting the goods
Sept 10, 2017Lebanon (Sarba)N/A1,810Tablets seized from Syrian and Lebanese individuals caught in possession of captagon and heroin and accused of trafficking
Oct 22, 2017Qatar (Hamad International Airport)N/A – Qatar200,000Airport authorities identified tablets inside hollow plates contained in a mail parcel
Oct 28, 2017Saudi Arabia (Bat’ha, Safar)N/A – Saudi Arabia1,170,588Saudi customs officials intercepted tablets hidden in different parts of a truck
Oct 31, 2021Saudi Arabia (Port of Dhuba)N/A – Saudi Arabia478,819Saudi customs officials intercepted tablets wrapped in carbon paper, hidden in an onion consignment
Nov 22, 2017Saudi Arabia (Tabuk)Jordan – Saudi Arabia20,500Saudi customs officials identify drugs hidden in an irrigation hose, inside luggage, and beneath the floorboard of the truck transporting the shipment from Jordan
Nov 29, 2017Saudi Arabia (Haql)Egypt – Saudi Arabia745,000Saudi patrol intercepted on a boat traveling from Egypt carrying drug shipment
March 9, 2018Turkey (Istanbul)N/A – Saudi Arabia320,000Turkish police intercept tablets stashed inside of nine machinery pistons destined for Saudi Arabia
March 12, 2018Saudi Arabia (Halat Amar)N/A – Saudi Arabia4,839,000Saudi police identify tablets hidden in vehicle doors, reserve tires, vehicle mattresses, and an iron net on the vehicle’s ceiling hidden by a cloth, along with 3,497 grams of hashish
April 21, 2018Lebanon (Tripoli)N/A1,140,000*Hidden inside secret cache in a truck
April 23, 2018Saudi Arabia (Tabuk)Egypt – Saudi Arabia2,851,500Seized on a vessel trying to cross into Saudi waters
May 31, 2018Syria (al-Tanf)N/A300,000Free Syrian Army identified drugs during an anti-ISIS operation
  Aug 27, 2018Saudi Arabia (King Abdulaziz International Airport)  N/A  24,875  Found in a passenger’s bag with tablets wrapped in carbon-blue paper under clothing
Aug 27, 2018Saudi Arabia (King Khalid Airport)N/A569,531Found inside a 360-kg biscuit kneading machine
Oct 24, 2018Turkey (Adana)N/A1,500,000Seized by Turkish authorities in five separate seizures
Oct 30, 2018Turkey (Mersin)N/A1,900,000Found inside large pipes in a secret warehouse tunnel
  Dec 5, 2018  Greece (Crete)Syria (Port of Latakia) – Libya (Benghazi)  3,000,000Found on cargo ship “Noka” hidden between layers of coffee, spices, and wood shavings along with 6 tons of cannabis
  Jan 8, 2019Greece (Port of Piraeus)Syria (Port of Latakia) – UAE (Dubai)  5,000,000Found packed inside lead plates� The ship was also scheduled to make stops in Greece and Croatia
April 9, 2019Lebanon (Bekaa Valley)N/A800,000Hidden in a refrigerated truck traveling from town of Chtaura
May 4, 2019United Arab Emirates (Dubai)N/A5,715,000Found by the UAE Coast Guard, hidden in a boat’s fuel tank
July 5, 2019Greece (Port of Piraeus)Syria (Port of Latakia) – N/A33,000,000Found by the Hellenic Police Force in containers transported on freight ships between June 28 and July 5
Aug 4, 2019United Arab Emirates (Dubai)N/A274,000Found hidden inside a vehicle fuel tank
Oct 23, 2019SyriaN/A850,000Found by the Maghaweir al-Thowra found in a supply truck heading to the Rukban camp
Nov 8, 2019Hong KongSyria – Saudi Arabia1,570,000Concealed beneath the seat bases of 84 sofas shipped in a container
Feb 25, 2020UAE (Jabel Ali Port)Syria (Port of Latakia) – N/A35,700,000*Hidden inside reels of electric cables
June 17, 2020Italy (Port of Salerno)Syria (Port of Latakia) – N/A1,000,000Part of a test run for a larger captagon shipment to the Port of Salerno two weeks later, accompanied by a shipment of cannabis
DateLocation of bustOrigin-destination# of tabletsDetails
July 1, 2020Italy (Port of Salerno)Syria (Port of Latakia) – N/A84,000,000Hidden inside industrial-sized steel gears, meter-wide cylinders of cardboard paper filled with 38 cogwheels of captagon
Aug 30, 2020Romania (Port of Constanta)Syria (Port of Latakia) – N/A4,000,000Transported by cargo ship, hidden in organic soap containers along with 15 tons of cannabis
Sept 4, 2020Lebanon (Baalbek)N/A Captagon tablets identified in police raid, contained inside of plastic bags branded with counterclockwise swastika logo
Nov 15, 2020Egypt (Damietta Port)Syria – N/A3,200,000Found in container of canned corn
Nov 27, 2020JordanSyria – N/A19,500Intercepted on Jordan-Syria border along with 1,942 hashish palms and a bottle of crystal
Nov 30, 2020Egypt (Damietta Port)N/A11,000,000Hidden inside freighter water filters inside of container’s 118 cartons
Jan 6, 2021Egypt (Port of Said)Lebanon (Beirut) – Libya8,000,000Hidden in a cargo shipment along with 8 tons of cannabis
Jan 12, 2021LebanonN/A – Africa812,000Hidden inside of oil and grease barrels along with 9 kg of hashish, contained in plastic bags with counterclockwise swastika
Jan 20, 2021Syria (East Aleppo)Syria (Regime-held areas) – N/A900,000Hidden inside a truck seized by Free Syrian Army personnel
Jan 23, 2021Saudi Arabia (Port of Jeddah)N/A – Saudi Arabia20,190,500Hidden inside a grapefruit consignment
Jan 29, 2021Saudi Arabia (King Abdul Aziz Port)N/A – Saudi Arabia14,400,000Found hidden inside the recesses of wooden panels
Feb 1, 2021Saudi Arabia (Al- Jawf)N/A – Saudi Arabia971,676Seized by Saudi border forces as smugglers tried to cross border
Feb 4, 2021Lebanon (Port of Beirut)N/A – Saudi Arabia5,000,000Hidden inside of tile-manufacturing tools, scheduled to ship to Greece then Saudi Arabia
Feb 5, 2021JordanSyria – N/A214,000Seized with 1,060 hashish palms smuggled from Syrian-Jordanian border
Feb 7, 2021Syria (Daraa)Syria (Suwayda) – N/A Seized along with hashish by the Russia-aligned 8th Brigade after clashes with smugglers
Feb 24, 2021Jordan (Qwiesmeh)Syria – N/A100,000Found on smugglers’ person after attempting to cross Syrian-Jordanian border
March 7, 2021Syria (Idlib)Syria (Aleppo – Saudi Arabia2,000,000Packed in tons of Pyrene (substance formed from olive pomace oil for heating)
March 23, 2021Malaysia (Port of Klang)N/A – Saudi Arabia94,800,000Packed in three containers on freighter ship dispatched from an “undisclosed location”
March 24, 2021JordanSyria – N/A3,280,000Found in vehicle with 765 kg of hashish, firearms, and ammunition, set ablaze after discovery
April 9, 2021Malaysia (West Port)N/A – Singapore3,862,216Hidden inside shipment of aluminum floor bases for doors
April 23, 2021Saudi Arabia (Port of Jeddah)Syria – N/A5,300,000Hidden in shipment from Lebanon’s Beirut Port inside the skin of pomegranates sourced to Syria
May 6, 2021Syria (Afrin)Syria – Saudi Arabia128,000Found inside of olive containers by Turkish-backed security forces
May 6, 2021JordanSyria – N/A100,000Seized from smugglers along with 30 palms of hashish on the Syria-Jordan border
May 16, 2021Turkey (Iskenderun Port)N/A – UAE6,200,000Found in 11 containers in Hatay province, close to the Syrian border
May 19, 2021JordanSyria – N/A1,300,000Found on smugglers trying to enter Jordan from Syria
May 27, 2021JordanSyria – N/A1,127,000Found in pickup vehicle along with 7,620 palms of hashish entering Jordan from Syria
May 31, 2021Syria (Deir ez-Zor)N/A300,000Seized by a Free Syrian Army group, Maghawir al-Thawra
June 1, 2021JordanSyria – N/A377,000Found on smugglers trying to enter Jordan from Syria
June 3, 2021QatarN/A36,000Hidden inside of a cavity of a gold-adorned wooden box
June 15, 2021Lebanon (Rafik Hariri Airport)N/A – Saudi Arabia223,200*Hidden inside consignment of water pumps
June 16, 2021JordanSyria – Saudi Arabia300,000Hidden in a secret cache of a vehicle amongst fruits
  June 28, 2021Saudi Arabia (Port of Jeddah)Syria (Port of Latakia) – Saudi Arabia  14,400,000  Hidden in between industrial-sized iron sheets
June 29, 2021LebanonN/A – Saudi Arabia10,000Hidden inside sterilization medical equipment
June 30, 2021Saudi Arabia (Port of Jeddah)N/A4,500,000Hidden inside a shipment of oranges
DateLocation of bustOrigin-destination# of tabletsDetails
July 5, 2021JordanSyria – N/A61,000Seized from smugglers on the Syria-Jordan border along with 4 kilograms of crystal and arms
July 19, 2021JordanSyria – N/A1,033,000Seized from smugglers on the Syria-Jordan border with 210 packs of hashish
July 23, 2021Saudi Arabia (Al-Haditha Port)Syria – Saudi Arabia2,100,000Hidden inside hollowed-out lids of tomato paste jars with labels “Made In Syria” on them, transited through Jordan
July 30, 2021JordanSyria – N/A362,000Seized from smugglers on the Syria-Jordan border with 273 packs of hashish
Aug 1, 2021Saudi Arabia (Port of Jeddah)N/A – Saudi Arabia8,700,000Hidden inside cocoa bean bags
Aug 4, 2021JordanSyria – N/A500,000Seized from smugglers on the Syria-Jordan border at the Jaber border crossing
Aug 17, 2021JordanSyria – N/A100,000Seized from smugglers on the Syria-Jordan border along with unspecified amount of hashish
Aug 22, 2021Syria (Afrin)Syria – N/A140,000Tablets hidden inside of pitless olives, identified by Syrian National Army (SNA)
Aug 29, 2021JordanSyria – N/A100,000Seized from smugglers on the Syria-Jordan border
Aug 29, 2021Jordan (Jaber)Syria – N/A2,310,000Tablets hidden inside stones and hair combs, along with clothes and accessories with smugglers along the Syria-Jordan border
Sept 21, 2021JordanSyria – N/A2,000,000Tablets were hidden inside of rubber tires of vehicle smuggling shipment from Syria
Oct 1, 2021Syria (Aleppo)Syria – N/A530,000Tablets seized and destroyed by Azaz Security Directorate and Intelligence Division
Oct 1, 2021Syria (Afrin)Syria – N/A10,000Seized along with firearms by the Syrian Liberation Front in coordination with military police
Oct 9, 2021Iraq (Rabiah)Syria – N/A108,000Detected by law enforcement thermal cameras at border crossing near Rabiah
Oct 11, 2021Turkey (Istanbul)N/A – UAE100,000Seized in 3 separate operations conducted in Istanbul’s four districts, identifying tablets hidden inside of wooden furniture set to be sent to the UAE
Oct 12, 2021Syria (Aleppo)Syria – N/A500,000Seized by Syrian Liberation Front amidst crackdown on dealers in northwestern Aleppo
Oct 17, 2021Iraq (Al Qaim)Syria – N/A93,000Seized at the al-Qaim border crossing connecting Syria and Iraq
Oct 21, 2021JordanSyria – N/A Transported from Syria into Jordan by drone, which was shot down by Jordanian security officials
Oct 21, 2021Nigeria (Apapa Sea Port)Lebanon – Nigeria451,807Hidden inside machinery
Oct 21, 2021Saudi Arabia (Alkhalji Port)N/A961,471Hidden inside vehicle parts, fuel tank, and spare tire and smuggled in three attempts
Oct 22, 2021Saudi Arabia (Al-Haditha Port)N/A – Saudi Arabia5,200,000Hidden in commercial truck crossing from Jordan, found crushed inside consignment of carbonate powder bags
Oct 22, 2021KuwaitIraq – N/A50,000Hidden inside 25 packages in a truck’s water tank crossing from Iraq
Oct 24, 2021Syria (Homs)N/A4,000,000Found inside a truck headed for Homs to Damascus
Oct 25, 2021Turkey (Sanliurfa)N/A147Seized along with 104 kg of cannabis, 7 grams of methamphetamines, 142 grams of heroin, and a firearm
Oct 26, 2021Saudi Arabia (Port of Jeddah)N/A – Saudi Arabia5,246,000Hidden inside a shipment of grapes
Oct 28, 2021Turkey (Anatakya)N/A9,000Found in an abandoned building by sniffer dogs along with 85 kg of hashish
Oct 30, 2021Turkey (Sanliurfa)N/A1,100Found hidden in cornfield irrigation pipes
Nov 1, 2021UAE (Dubai)N/A – UAE79,477Found stashed inside a vehicle at the Hatta checkpoint
Nov 10, 2021Jordan (Jaber Crossing)Syria – N/A35,000Found in a smuggling vehicle from Syria
Nov 12, 2021Saudi Arabia (Al-Haditha Port)Syria – Saudi Arabia2,302,325Found in a truck that drove through Jordan
Nov 24, 2021Kuwait (Kabd)N/A102,000*Found inside the intestines of live, imported sheep
Nov 26, 2021Saudi Arabia (Al-Haditha Port)N/A – Saudi Arabia2,138,231Found in seven attempts, hidden truck floorboard cavities, starch flour bags, truck radiators, truck cabin refrigerators, and other parts of a vehicle
Nov 28, 2021UAE (Abu Dhabi)N/A174,000Smuggled through border crossing
Nov 30, 2021Syria (Damascus)Syria – Saudi Arabia3,132,000*Syrian government forces stopped vehicle in rural Damascus with tablets hidden inside of pasta packages sprayed with pepper spray en route to Saudi Arabia
Dec 3, 2021Jordan (Jaber Crossing)Syria – N/A65,000Hidden in truck hollowed out specifically for smuggling, traveling from Syria
Dec 11, 2021LebanonN/A1,500,000Hidden in wooden pallets intended for export through the port of Beirut
DateLocation of bustOrigin-destination# of tabletsDetails
Dec 12, 2021LebanonN/A – Saudi Arabia4,000,000Found inside of coffee shipment destined for Saudi Arabia
Dec 18, 2021JordanSyria – N/A Seized from group of 150-200 armed smugglers crossing into Jordan from Syria’s Suwayda and Daraa provinces
Dec 21, 2021OmanN/A1,800,000Hidden in glass plates
Dec 23, 2021UAE (Dubai)N/A1,000,000Stashed inside of plastic lemons stored in 66 out of 3,849 boxes
Dec 27, 2021Jordan (Zarqa)Syria – Saudi Arabia250,000Hidden inside of vehicle body coming from Syria and destined for Saudi Arabia
Dec 29, 2021UAE (Dubai)N/A9,000,000Identified by Dubai Customs’ Jebel Ali and Telecom Centre as in powder form, hidden inside containers
Dec 29, 2021Lebanon (Port of Beirut)N/A – Kuwait9,000,000Hidden inside plastic oranges and limes
Dec 20, 2021Syria (Daraa)N/A Syrian officials seize “tens of thousands” of captagon tablets and “hundreds of kilograms” of hashish
Dec 31, 2021Saudi Arabia (Al-Haditha Port)N/A1,122,091Seized in several smuggling attempts where tablets were hidden inside luggage, vehicle tires, truck radiators, inside clothing, and truck floorboards
Jan 12, 2022Jordan (Jaber Crossing)Syria – N/A2,700,000Hidden inside two trucks carrying iron plates and fruit consignments entering Jordan from Syria
Jan 13, 2022JordanSyria – N/A200,000Hidden inside fruit truck entering Jordan from Syria
Jan 14, 2022Saudi Arabia (Port of Jeddah)N/A8,335,2505�3 million tablets found in silicone barrels and 3 million more tablets inside onion consignments
Jan 16, 2022UAE (Dubai)N/A9,000,000Identified in powder, crushed form by Dubai customs
Jan 16, 2022JordanN/A5,000,000Seized from smugglers crossing into northeast Jordan from Syria
Jan 17, 2022Greece (Rhodes and Kastellorizo)N/A260,000Found washed up on islands of Rhodes and Kastellorizo in plastic bags branded with counterclockwise swastika logos
* Amount estimated from the weight of seizure
Sources: Thompson Reuters, Agence France-Presse (AFP), Zakat, Tax, and Customs Authority of Saudi Arabia, Lebanese Ministry of Defense – Army Command, Hong Kong Customs, Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan – Public Security Directorate, Yahoo News, The Saudi Gazette, Oxford Analytica, CBS News, Der Spiegel, Saudi Press Agency, Deutsche Welle (DW), Voice of America (VOA), The Jordan Times, Haaretz, Jordan News Agency, The National, Business Insider, Middle East Eye, ERT Greece, The Peninsula, Riyadh Daily, Arab News, Daily Sabah, The Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (ORF), Al Arabiya, The Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC), Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), Ekathimerini, Step News, Gulf News, Khaleej Times, Balkan Insight, Ahram News, Egypt Today, Maraya News, Enabbaladi, Horan Free League, Roya News, Zamanalwsl, Andalou Agency, Syrian Observer, The Global Times, Gulf Today

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