Saudi Arabia is becoming the 'capital' of drugs in the Middle East

Four members of the family lost their lives due to a terrible result when their house was set on fire just before Iftar.

The Saudi media became aware of such an incident last April. Police told local newspapers that the man was under the influence of a drug called 'shabu' or 'methamphetamine'.

Lately, the Saudi media has been reporting alarming news about the increase in drug use in the country.

"It amounts to an open war against us, more dangerous than any war," one columnist said of drug traffic into the country.

Saudi authorities on Wednesday said it was the largest drug haul in the country's history after seizing 47 million amphetamine pills from flour in a warehouse in the capital Riyadh.

Experts say about this record amount of drug seizures, Saudi Arabia has become the drug capital of the Middle East due to the increase in drug shipments.

As the demand for drugs increases, the country is becoming a primary destination for smugglers from Syria and Lebanon.

Experts say Saudi Arabia is becoming one of the biggest and regionally most profitable drug destinations and is growing day by day.

According to Saudi Arabia's General Directorate of Narcotics Control, Wednesday's shipment was the single largest in terms of the amount of drugs seized in the operation.

However, the authorities did not say anything about the name of the seized drug and where it came from.

Earlier, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said, "Amphetamine seizures from Middle Eastern countries are most likely to be related to pills with the Captagon logo."

'Captagon' is basically a brand name of a pharmaceutical product containing the stimulant phenytoline.

The European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction says that it is no longer in legal production, but counterfeit drugs with the name "Captagon" are often seized in Middle Eastern countries.

According to CNN, the amount of Captagon pills seized in drug busts in and around Saudi Arabia has increased over time.

Earlier this week, the US Coast Guard seized 320 kg of amphetamine tablets and nearly 3,000 kg of cannabis from a fishing boat in the Gulf of Oman. Which costs several million dollars.

Vanda Felbab-Brown, a fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC, says the use of the drug, which became popular in Saudi Arabia about 15 years ago, has increased in the past five years.

"It's probably become like marijuana," he said, noting its widespread use.

Felbab-Brown explained the reason for the increase in Captagon use, “because the drug is coming in like a bunch of bananas, and mostly from Syria.

Stating that it is produced in the country, he said, "It is produced commercially in chemical factories obtained from the Bashar al-Assad administration."

This fellow at the Brookings Institution also points out that his followers provide it.

CNN said that when asked to know the statement of Saudi Arabia's Center for International Communication, no response was received.

According to the International Addiction Journal, each Captagon pill sells for $10 to $25. If it is the same drug recently seized by Saudi authorities, its retail value would be $1.1 billion.

"Captagon has amphetamine-like properties," said Carolyn Rose, a senior analyst at the New Lines Institute in Washington, DC, who monitors the captagon trade.

“It is used as a stress-reducing technique, helping to suppress appetite and providing an 'instant boost,' users claim to be stress-free.

"It is said that Captagon is sought after by foreign workers from rich Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia to improve the quality of work."

While marijuana and 'khat' (a type of leaf similar to tobacco) are common drugs in Saudi Arabia, amphetamines are more popular among Saudi youth, writes CNN.

A 2021 study in the Journal of Crime, Law and Social Change quoted one drug user as saying, “Captagon is small. My school mates and I prefer it to marijuana.

"It's not like marijuana, we can buy it as a tablet... Once we get 25 riyals from the parents, we can buy a tablet and consume it."

“This drug has a distinct appeal to the affluent consumer market,” says Carolyn Rose. Despite the social reforms its use in recreational activities…

“Besides unemployment and having nothing to do in their spare time, they need speed to beat the boredom. Some do not consider Captagon as taboo as the hard drugs opium and cocaine.”

Due to the increase in drug use, over the last few years drug addiction rehabilitation centers have been established all over Saudi Arabia with government licenses.

Khalid Al Mashari, chief executive of one such organization called Qawim, said that about four to five organizations have been opened in the last two years. This is proof of the importance the government is giving to the rehabilitation of drug addicts.

However, the fact that the problem of drug addiction is increasing in Saudi Arabia has also brought it to the fore.

"Unfortunately, the demand for our rehabilitation centers is increasing," Khalid Al Mashari told CNN. Now at least people have an option instead of going to neighboring countries for treatment.”

But despite the rehabilitation center, Carolyn Rose said there was little public health warning or campaign to raise awareness about Captagon.

Felbab-Brown, a fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., says the Middle East has emphasized stricter drug policies.

“While a large part of the world has turned away from policies that are draconian and actually ineffective or downright counterproductive; There, in most cases in the Middle East, this policy has been doubly strict.

"Jailing drug users is largely ineffective and counterproductive."
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