Bloomberg has described that what's been dubbed "poor man's cocaine" at as little as $3 a pill is threatening to proliferate across the Middle East and into Europe. It's long been part of the underground party scene in what are otherwise strict Sharia law Arab Gulf countries, but that's poised to change after authorities have prioritized its eradication.
"Europe is bracing for the possible influx of a drug that’s hooked the Middle East as political shifts and crackdowns in the Gulf spur producers in Syria and Lebanon to tap new markets," a fresh report warns.
But while acknowledging that the synthetic stimulant Captagon has been popular for years in parts of the Middle East and North Africa, Bloomberg blames the Assad government and allied militias for its now rapid spread.
"Selling for around $3 to $25 per tablet, the amphetamine-type pill captagon is primarily produced and trafficked by individuals and groups tied to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and his ally the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, according to the US State Department and Treasury, the UK’s Foreign Office as well as independent researchers," Bloomberg writes.
Saudi Arabia and Gulf allies have reportedly recently urged President Assad to stem the flow of Captagon from Syria as part of restored diplomatic ties, also at a moment Damascus has been re-embraced by the Arab League.
The drug was produced in the 1960s in the Germany, and in its medical form typically treats ailments like attention deficit disorders and narcolepsy.
It is certainly ironic and dubious that the West now widely blames the Assad government for the proliferation of Captagon, given that for much of the last decade it was anti-government insurgents known to be the heaviest users. At one point the pill even became known as "the drug of jihad".
Reuters has previously detailed, "It was discontinued but an illicit version of the drug continued to be produced in eastern Europe and later in the Arab region, becoming prominent in the conflict that erupted in Syria following anti-government protests in 2011."
The same report noted its prominence on the anti-Assad or "rebel" side. "The illicit version - also nicknamed 'the drug of jihad' or 'poor man's cocaine' - is thought to be made of a mix of fenethylline, caffeine and other fillers. It generates focus and staves off sleep and hunger," Reuters wrote.
It has also been seen widely in war-torn places like Libya and Sudan, favored among militants precisely as an energy-booster which staves off natural cravings.
As for pro-Assad networks allegedly being deep in the current Captagon trade, this is a trend likely fueled by Washington having for years sanctioned Syria to hell. Currently the US-led sanctions on the Syrian government are among the most brutal and far-reaching in the world, unleashing runaway inflation, hunger, and lack of electricity — and the trend in the MENA region has been that wherever poverty and political instability persists, the Captagon trade ratchets up.
Currently, anti-Assad activists who are attempting to thwart Gulf-Damascus rapprochement are harping on the issue in order to argue that Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and other Arab states must resist normalization with the Syrian government.