Conservative Saudi Arabia Is Becoming a Hotbed for Amphetamines

In strict, conservative Saudi Arabia, there are signs of a booming illicit amphetamines trade

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Nikolay Doychinov / Reuters

Captagon pills, part of the 789 kg (1,739 lb.) of confiscated drugs, in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, on July 12, 2007

These days Saudi Arabia conjures up many images: oil, sheiks, the recent women’s-right-to-drive campaign. But amphetamines? This year, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime’s 2013 World Drug Report, 30% of amphetamines seized by counternarcotics officials worldwide came from Saudi Arabia, a country with less than 1% of the world’s population. That either means that Saudi Arabia has some seriously good counternarcotics police, or the country has a serious problem with drugs. Most of the amphetamines used in Saudi Arabia come in the form of Captagon tablets, the trade name for fenethylline, a synthetic stimulant used in the early treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

Banned in 1986, Captagon has seen something of a revival over the past decade in the Gulf, where a counterfeit version made of cheaper, easier to procure and more potent amphetamines is by far and away the most popular drug on the illegal market. Saudi authorities confiscated nearly 70 million tablets last year, according to Abdulelah al-Shareef, from the Drug Addiction, Prevention and Control Department at Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Interior. Officials estimate that the seized tablets only represent about 10% of the total amount of Captagon entering the country.

(MORE: Syria’s Breaking Bad: Are Amphetamines Funding the War?)

According to al-Shareef, addiction rates are skyrocketing — at least half of patients undergoing treatment in rehab centers are Captagon addicts. Of all the drugs available to a wealthy nation seemingly adept at importing illicit drugs, why is Saudi addicted to a counterfeit precursor to Ritalin? Like many countries in the Gulf, says Elie Araj, executive director of the Beirut-based Middle East and North Africa Harm Reduction Association, the Saudis don’t like to air their dirty laundry, so most drug use goes untracked, and untreated. “We know it’s a big problem, but it remains hidden.”

Drugs, like alcohol, are strictly forbidden in Islam, so even those desperately in need of help are reluctant to reach out, for fear of exposing their sins. Most of the information on Captagon use is anecdotal. Long-haul truck drivers use it to stay awake. Students use it for an extra edge when cramming for exams. And, according to one Saudi resident, in a culture that celebrates late-night socializing and early work and school hours, Captagon is the only way to make it through a day. “Ignorance is a big problem,” says Araj, who points out that Captagon’s antecedent as a legitimate prescription drug blunts perceptions of the harm it can wreak. “A lot of people think of Captagon as a treatment, not a drug. They have a headache, a friend gives them a tablet, and suddenly they feel full of energy.”

It’s also a lot easier to hide. Like heroin and cocaine, Captagon possession and distribution could lead to the death penalty. But not everyone knows how to identify it. “A normal policeman cannot tell the difference between Panadol [a type of painkiller] or Captagon,” says Araj. “A syringe or cocaine powder is much more easily recognized.” The effects of abuse, however, are the same — addiction, organ failure, the destruction of the nervous system, says al-Shareef. Which is why the government is embarking on a nationwide education campaign aimed at the country’s youth. “That’s why the security forces are [making] huge efforts to stop its flow. If it continues, we will have a destroyed generation full of addicts.”

9 comments
Sammi_Fabolous
Sammi_Fabolous

The government ? You people really think they don't know how do people smuggle it thru ur countries ? Really now ? Atleast one of them DOES :) ! صار كل شيء يمشي بالواسطات !

They concentrate on how to make more money :D !

Ps: I'm not mentioning any name of any country :) ! I'm just talking what's more real goin on :) !

Sammi_Fabolous
Sammi_Fabolous

Why concentrating on people ? Yes we destroy each other ! I'm not going to talk about saudia arabia specificaly ! In any other country or middle east .. What about the cop/police them selves ? Don't tell me they're perfect ... I'm not goin to deny good onse there ! But sure there's crooked ones too ;) ! Who actually ? Catch people or make them suffer rott in jail or what ever a drug addict/drug dealer can get while gettin caught ! And the "Captangon" ? The "drugs" ? Again I won't denay that they don't destroy it or what ever so no one can get a single of it .. It sure as hell even if you're a good person ? You'd try it :D ...

Soo the crooked police ? They use it too :) ! Well actually ! They took this job just to get those stuff for free :) ! Any of u says that I'm wrong ? Keep it to ur self :D ! That means u haven't seen or heard what's goin on :) !

amnrrr
amnrrr

We Saudis to Anri effect for these quantities in the streets or the surrounding environment are very few
As for the media reports were false or there used from a specific category

daridekas
daridekas

if somebody has to survive in an environment like Saudi Arabia for sure after sometime he will have to use medicine.

admin2:invetrics

militanttradcat
militanttradcat

Will somebody please take these pills away from President Strangelove-?!  He must be using them-!!  There can be no other explanation for his behavior patterns.

BA.
BA.

I'm Saudi and my younger brother, 22, is a Captagon addict. He is a huge troublemaker. These pills make him extremely aggressive and intolerable. His morals are also gone when he's on the drug and energetic, he can steal and fight with even his mother. I went to the Interior Ministry's Drug Prevention division and asked for their help. They told me they were not interested in addicts, only smugglers.  I asked them to take him to the government rehab center. They said it wasn't their job, "go get 4 guys and take him yourself" he said. Saudi Arabia has no private rehab centers. 

Families that have addicts among them are suffering. The Saudi government needs to realize that it is impossible to stop drug flow completely. There will always be drug flow and addicts so I ask them as a concerned Saudi citizen to improve their treatment of the addiction problem and be more serious about it. Not just focus on the adventurous and action fun side of chasing and capturing smugglers. There is a nasty world here that needs attention. Capture the addicts and extract intel from them and treat them. Capture the dealers using the addicts' intel. And go from there. 

There is only one rehab center in Saudi Arabia which belongs to the government. And they don't take the aggressive addicts from your house or the street if you had one, they ask you to bring them yourself. This policy needs to change. Coordinate with the police or Drug Prevention police to do that. Thank you for the article. 

Mohd
Mohd

@BA.  What you are saying is doesn't make sense at all. Saudi Arabia have huge government rehab centers in most of the cities and they take any type of addiction, and they provide a full privacy for their patients so they don't suffer from the society complain.

799954
799954

@BA. سالفة انه اخوك مدمن والسعوديه ماساعدته 

وتقول ماهو اختصاصنا اقول بلا تلفيق اكاذيب من راسك