December 5 2022 3:03 PM E-paper Subscribe Sign in My Account Sign out

Jordan’s war on drugs

Drug addict
(Photo: Envato Elements)
When talking about the situation in the Middle East, one may invoke all sorts of social and economic problems, but the global drug crisis is not usually on the list of the region’s pressing issues. This may change with the rise in users and traffickers of Captagon. اضافة اعلان

First manufactured in 1961, Captagon is a stimulant originally intended to combat ADHD. Its ability to boost alertness and aggression has made it the region’s favorite drug.

It may not be as stigmatized as cocaine, heroin, and marijuana, but it still has long-term effects that include rapid weight loss, hypertension, severe headaches, and increased heart rate. Users become irritable and overly hostile, and prolonged and intense abuse can lead to death.

The large quantities available at cheap prices will lead to youth suffering and dying because of Captagon.

The root of the problem must be determined, because if the fire is not put out now, it will spread and consume the nation. Illicit activity thrives in periods of economic downturn and political instability. It is for this reason that Lebanon was once the Middle East’s main producer of the drug, as militias set up factories in the Bekaa Valley. When Lebanon’s authorities began taking action, a new opportunity arose across the border in Syria, where a deadly civil war broke out. Many of Lebanon’s smuggling veterans moved shop, while the chaos and uncertainty of war brought Syrian actors, mainly pro-regime but some opposition as well, into the game. Fighters from all sides use Captagon to maintain focus and morale, but its main use to the warring factions is the income it provides.

Loosely guarded borders and an increasingly globalized world mean that Captagon can be smuggled throughout the region in droves.

The Arab Gulf states are by far the biggest consumers of the drug, but if the Captagon route is the Silk Road, Jordan is its Baghdad.

Jordan’s long and porous border with Syria makes it a key target for smugglers. In January 2022, Jordanian officials seized approximately 2.7 million Captagon pills at the Jaber-Nasib border crossing.
The root of the problem must be determined, because if the fire is not put out now, it will spread and consume the nation. Illicit activity thrives in periods of economic
Alarmingly, the struggle between those who defend our border and smugglers has become violent; in that same month, border guards killed 27 smugglers attempting to enter Jordan under the cover of a snowstorm. Although not on the same scale as Lebanon and Syria, Captagon production exists in Jordan as well, as evidenced by the authorities shutting down a production plant in 2018.

Jordan is a conduit toward the more lucrative market in the Gulf, but it is a consumer as well. Estimates of the number of users are hard to come by, due foremost to the stigma attached to the drug problem in an Islamic society, but if hundreds of millions of pills are smuggled annually, surely disenfranchised youth in Jordan consume the substance.

The Captagon issue, now more prominent than ever, is closely related, in the Middle East, to political and economic problems, so solving those is bound to reduce drug smuggling.

Syria’s status as a source of Captagon can be diminished through the removal of sanctions. As the Syrian pound continues to plummet in value, political actors must rely on illegal trade in the absence of robust legal markets, and regular people may be forced to partake in the production of drugs to avoid starvation and destitution.

Various examples from history show that sanctions harm the citizens of a country far more than the regimes they purport to combat. As Iraq starved in the 1990s, Saddam Hussein lived lavishly. This is also the case with the Assad family, yet the same cannot be said about the average Syrian family or small-time militias.

Switching the strategy to firm and targeted sanctions against certain officials, rather than a wholesale blockade of Syria and everything Syrian, would most likely stem the growth of Captagon production and use.

But as one Syrian journalist writing for Jordan News put it, “these countries should come together and find a more reliable solution to countering Syria’s drugs, and that likely starts at home”.

Study after study has found that individuals develop drug addictions in order to get rid of feelings of emptiness and stress in their lives. Jordan’s economic stagnation and serious unemployment rates are bound to push young people into depression and anxiety, so it is clear that fixing the broken economy will address the issue of addiction across the nation.

Most importantly, though, is acknowledging the problem.

The society should not find it taboo to talk about mental health issues, addiction and rehabilitation.

It is difficult to tackle the issue of Captagon, mainly because of its scale. To solve a multi-faceted problem, there is need of a multi-faceted approach. Dealing with the issue will involve political negotiation, economic policy, robust security measures and a greater emphasis on the well-being of the population.

War, an experience far too common in the Middle East, kills people physically, but drugs, a newer phenomenon here, kills the spirit.


Mohammad Rasoul Kailani is a writer and first year student at the University of Toronto. Amongst various other topics, his interests are in Middle Eastern affairs.


Read more Opinion and Analysis