Captagon Crisis: A Silent Plague for the Middle East

The crisis is centered around an amphetamine-based drug, widely recognized by the name “Captagon.”

The Middle East, a geopolitical region with lands around the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea that are frequently associated with a rich cultural heritage, faces a silent yet profoundly damaging adversary: the drug crisis. The crisis is centered around an amphetamine-based drug, widely recognized by the name “Captagon.” Originally formulated in Germany during the 1960s to address conditions such as attention deficit disorders and narcolepsy, Captagon was ultimately discontinued due to its addictive nature and adverse effects. Approximately two decades later, criminal organizations in Bulgaria initiated the production of an illegal variant of Captagon, which subsequently proliferated into the Middle East (Felbab-Brown, 2024). This development marked the inception of an enduring crisis associated with Captagon, necessitating immediate global attention, and efforts to mitigate this issue.

Social and Health Concerns

The deleterious effects of addictive substances on the human body, particularly on internal organs, are well-documented, resulting in significant health complications of both psychological and physiological nature. Prolonged consumption of Captagon has been associated with the development of cardiovascular disorders, stroke, and potentially fatal outcomes. Furthermore, the prevailing crisis has precipitated a substantial surge in incidents of seizures and the illicit distribution of the substance. The health impacts of Captagon extend beyond individuals, as the drug’s extensive utilization has given rise to public health apprehensions, such as heightened occurrences of drug-induced overdoses, hospitalizations, and deaths. For instance, in Iraq, there has been a twofold increase in the population afflicted with substance use disorders from 2017 to 2021  (Waly, 2024).

The drug crisis is correlated with youth unemployment and societal discontent in the area. Numerous young individuals resort to substances such as Captagon as a strategy for dealing with the pressures and monotony of being jobless, a prevalent issue in nations like Jordan, where the youth unemployment rate hovers at approximately 50% (Abazid, 2022). The absence of job prospects not only results in financial insecurity but also cultivates feelings of despair and marginalization among young people. This economic standstill worsens psychological problems, heightening the appeal of substance abuse as an escape mechanism.

Economic Implications

The drug crisis intersects with wider socio-economic challenges in the Middle East. The trade of Captagon drives illicit practices and corruption, with individuals engaging in smuggling and trafficking leveraging public infrastructure and political affiliations to transport substantial amounts of the substance. Consequently, this has resulted in economic setbacks and instability in nations such as Saudi Arabia, which has implemented a temporary prohibition on the importation of fruits and vegetables from Lebanon due to the detection of Captagon in these goods.

(Aftandilian, 2022). Countries such as Lebanon and Syria have encountered severe economic devastation, resulting in the proliferation of organized narco-trafficking operations. The driving force behind these operations is the necessity to produce revenue amidst challenging economic conditions, consequently fostering an environment characterized by corruption and bribery.

Under the circumstances of economic devastation, however, the production and smuggling of Captagon have become a crucial source of revenue for the Syrian government, led by Bashar al-Assad. It is approximated that the narcotics industry yielded approximately $5.7 billion in the year 2021, representing a substantial portion of Syria’s overall GDP amounting to approximately $20 billion. This dependence on the drug trafficking industry serves to highlight the severe financial difficulties experienced by the government, while also intensifying social instability and corruption within the nation. Furthermore, the global and local impacts of Syria’s drug trade present considerable challenges to adjacent states and play a role in the overall disruption of the Middle Eastern region (Felbab-Brown, 2024).

International Efforts

The response from the international community to the Captagon crisis in the Middle East has been characterized by a diverse array of approaches, covering a range of strategies and measures aimed at tackling the issue. One prominent initiative is the inter-agency strategy of the United States, which is marked by a focus on several essential areas. Initially, it lends support to law enforcement bodies in their endeavors to investigate activities linked to Captagon, ensuring the identification and prosecution of individuals involved. This strategy also deploys economic sanctions and various other mechanisms to interrupt and dismantle Captagon networks, with the goal of severing the financial and logistical backing that underpins the illicit trade. Moreover, the United States extends security aid to nations significantly impacted by the crisis, such as Jordan and Lebanon, bolstering their capabilities to combat the trafficking of Captagon. Lastly, the strategy underscores the importance of fostering harmonized approaches with international organizations to reinforce the global response to Captagon, guaranteeing that attempts are cohesive and impactful across borders (Dagres, 2023).

The European Union (EU) also has implemented sanctions against individuals from Syria and Lebanon who are implicated in the Captagon trade. These measures are designed to interrupt and dismantle the networks engaged in manufacturing and distributing illicit substance (U.S. Department of Treasury, 2024). Nevertheless, the efficacy of sanctions in practice is limited, given that well-established criminal leaders are not expected to alter their conduct solely due to the imposition of sanctions.

Is it Effective?

The Captagon crisis in the Middle East necessitates immediate worldwide attention due to its significant social, health, and economic consequences. Proponents posit that coordinated international endeavors, such as sanctions and cooperation in law enforcement, are essential in managing the crisis. They contend that by focusing on the financial and operational foundations of Captagon networks, there can be a notable decrease in the manufacturing and dissemination of the substance, thus easing the related health and social challenges. Through the implementation of comprehensive tactics, the global community can assist impacted nations in addressing the crisis, promoting regional stability, and enhancing health standards (Graceffo, 2024).

Nevertheless, the opposing viewpoint suggests that these actions, particularly sanctions, might not adequately tackle the fundamental issues of the crisis. Critics argued that sanctions by themselves are incapable of dismantling deeply rooted criminal networks or tackling the socio-economic circumstances propelling the crisis. For example, the prevalent high levels of youth unemployment and economic uncertainty in countries like Syria and Lebanon contribute to the rise of Captagon as a coping mechanism. Without confronting these underlying problems, the crisis could endure despite international interventions. Hence, a more holistic approach, integrating economic progress and social welfare initiatives, is imperative to establish enduring solutions and diminish the allure of Captagon.


The Captagon crisis in the Middle East presents a significant social, economic, and political challenge that requires a comprehensive international response. While the enforcement of sanctions and laws plays a crucial role, it is not sufficient on its own. It is crucial to tackle the underlying issues, such as elevated levels of youth joblessness, financial uncertainty, and governmental dishonesty. Adopting a comprehensive approach that covers economic growth, education, and social welfare systems is essential to offer alternatives to drug trafficking and misuse. Enhancing regional collaboration and local capabilities, alongside giving precedence to public health interventions, can help mitigate the health consequences of Captagon and provide assistance to affected communities. In the end, an extended global commitment to these all-encompassing strategies is vital for the creation of stability and well-being in the Middle East, paving the way for a more secure and prosperous future for the region.

Gavrila Putri Ardiona
Gavrila Putri Ardiona
A first-year undergraduate student majoring in Internasional Relations at Universitas Gadjah Mada. Gavrila is passionate to learn more about social, politic, and humanitarian issues in both national and global scope. Through avtive participation in various volunteering activities, activism, and student organization, Gavrila’s interest around peace-building continues to grow.