NEW YORK // Amphetamine seizures in the Middle East accounted for almost 40 per cent of global confiscations of the drug in 2009, according to a UN report.
The UN's annual World Drug Report 2011 describes seizures of 24.8 tonnes of amphetamines in the Middle East in 2009, the most recent year for which data are available. This represents 39 per cent of all global confiscations and is a marked increase on the 19.6 tonnes seized in 2008.
The report says the quantity of the drug seized in the Middle East had been rising in the 10 years leading up to 2009.
Amphetamines are typically sold in pill form under the name of Captagon, a stimulant that was once available over the counter. Known also as "the White" or "Abu Malaf", the tablets are addictive and harmful, the UN says.
The 271-page report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) says 54 per cent of the seizures in the Middle East occurred in Saudi Arabia, which has a "significant consumer market" for the drug among its native population.
Large quantities of pills are made in makeshift laboratories in south-eastern Europe and driven overland through Turkey to the Arabian Peninsula. Big seizures were recorded in transit countries such as Jordan (20 per cent of the regional total) and Syria (15 per cent).
The report describes a single seizure in Saudi Arabia of eight million Captagon pills in January 2010. "The traffickers were believed to have ties to an amphetamine manufacturing and distribution ring that was broken in Turkey a few months earlier," it says.
Saudi customs inspectors seized another 1.3 million tablets concealed on a vessel from Egypt. This shows Egypt has become another "point of departure for amphetamine shipments", the report says.
Thomas Pietschmann, an analyst for the UNODC, said criminals were willing to risk the death penalty and long prison sentences for drug trafficking to reach a "very lucrative market" in the GCC.
Capital punishment for those caught smuggling drugs encouraged traffickers to transport larger consignments, he said.
"It doesn't make a difference if you traffick half a kilo or a couple of tonnes, you're taking the same risk. That's the reason the market has been so swamped by these drugs in recent years," he said. "The death penalty does not solve the issue. In fact it complicates the issue."
The UNODC praised the opening of the Gulf Criminal Information Centre in Doha in June 2010 to co-ordinate anti-drugs agencies across the GCC, but warned that traffickers were also stepping up their efforts.
Captagon pills are often used by dieters and young men, who mistakenly believe they boost sexual performance. The pills are also popular among students, who use them to stay awake while cramming for exams.
Users experience a rise in heart rate and can become aggressive.Habitual users suffer depression, headaches, psychiatric problems and heart attacks.