x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Amphetamine use in GCC continues to rise

Seizures of stimulants at "record high" levels, according to the UN, with the Middle East accounting for two-thirds of the market for the drug.

Captagon pills are displayed along with a cup of cocaine and hashish by Lebanese Internal Security Forces.
Captagon pills are displayed along with a cup of cocaine and hashish by Lebanese Internal Security Forces.

NEW YORK // The popularity of amphetamines continues unabated across the GCC, with so-called "Captagon" pills dominating the regional illegal narcotics trade, according to the latest UN drug report. Seizures of what the UN calls amphetamine-type stimulants remain at "record high" levels, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), with Saudi police intercepting 12.8 tonnes of the drug in 2008, the most recent year for which data are available.

Released this week, the World Drug Report 2010 reveals that the wider Middle East accounts for almost two-thirds of the world's total amphetamine seizures for that year, which stands at 24.3 tonnes. Police in Jordan seized 14.1 million pills in 2008, while their counterparts in Syria and Yemen netted a further 11.8 million and 13.4 million respectively, the report said. Lebanese, Turkish, Emirati and Yemeni officials said seizures were often destined for the Saudi market.

Unveiling the report on Wednesday, the UNODC head Antonio Maria Costa warned of surging production and abuse of synthetic drugs in the Middle East as traffickers looked beyond their traditional western markets. "These new drugs cause a double problem," said Mr Costa. "First, they are being developed at a much faster rate than regulatory norms and law enforcement can keep up. Second, their marketing is cunningly clever, as they are custom-manufactured so as to meet the specific preference in each situation."

Bearing the brand name of a formerly legal stimulant, Captagon pills mix fenethylline, caffeine and other "uppers" and are popular among students cramming for exams and dieters hoping to suppress hunger. Some young men take them in the mistaken belief that they boost sexual performance. Growing drug use across the Gulf results from an increasingly affluent middle-class lifestyle combined with an influx of illegal migrants looking to make cash through crime, the UNODC says.

The 313-page report revealed the cash incentive for smuggling drugs to the Gulf, with traffickers willing to risk severe penalties in Saudi Arabia to access perhaps the world's most lucrative drugs market. While a gram of cocaine fetches a wholesale price of US$1.30 (Dh4.8) in Peru and $27 in the United States, the stimulant powder sells for $171 in Saudi Arabia, where traffickers face execution by beheading.

Saudi officials announced plans to clamp down on an increasingly "dangerous phenomenon" in April, amid fears that young Saudis are risking long-term psychological problems through amphetamine addiction. Globally, the number of users of amphetamine-type stimulants - between 30 and 40 million - is soon expected to top the combined number of opiate and cocaine users, the UNODC warned. "We will not solve the world drugs problem if we simply push addiction from cocaine and heroin to other addictive substances and there are unlimited amounts of them, produced in mafia labs at trivial costs," added Mr Costa.

Researchers noted that Dubai continues to be an important transit point for Afghani heroin, and revealed that a relatively high proportion of adults in the UAE - some 5.4 per cent - are estimated to use cannabis. Although not as prevalent as in Lebanon (6.4 per cent) or England (7.9 per cent), the figure is significantly higher than in neighbouring Saudi Arabia (0.3 per cent) and Oman (0.1 per cent) and the same as in the Netherlands, where the drug is tolerated.