After a decade of bloody civil war that has decimated the population, destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure, and ruined the economy, the Assad government has turned to the lucrative dirty business of narcotics dealing, turning Syria into a narco-state. 

The business involves the manufacture, sale, and shipping of Captagon, a cheap alternative to cocaine that is a stimulant with addictive characteristics. According to a detailed report by the New York Times, the distribution of Captagon involves people in the highest level of the Syrian government. 

Included in the business are members of the military as well as President Assad’s younger brother Maher Assad, who oversees much of the production and distribution of drugs. He uses his position as the commander of the 4th Armored Division to oversee and protect the drug trade.

The trade of Captagon has spread across the border into Lebanon. There, Hezbollah has quickly taken it up to fill its coffers.

The drug busts of Captagon hidden in legal shipments of food, vegetables, and machinery parts have exploded. Shipments have been seized in Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E, Greece, Italy, and as far away as Malaysia.

The amount seized by authorities in 2021 was 250,000,000 pills, 18 times the amount seized just four years ago, according to the Times report. However, the number of pills seized worldwide represents just a fraction of the amount of Captagon pills manufactured. Even more concerning to some analysts is the fact that the Syrian government is branching out and dealing crystal meth as well. 

Bashar al-Assad and Maher Assad
Bashar al-Assad (right) and his brother Maher Assad are responsible for the illegal Captagon drug trade. (Reuters)

Since the Syrian government is responsible for the trade, getting any kind of cooperation from it is an exercise in futility. 

“The idea of going to the Syrian government to ask about cooperation is just absurd,” said Joel Rayburn, the American special envoy for Syria during the Trump administration. “It is literally the Syrian government that is exporting the drugs. It is not like they are looking the other way while drug cartels do their thing. They are the drug cartel.”