Last week, Syrian authorities trumpeted the seizure of a large cache of illegal amphetamine pills known as captagon and said an investigation was underway to figure out where the pills came from, notes the AP. Now, an investigation by the New York Times may provide the answer: The Syrian government itself. The story by Ben Hubbard and Hwaida Saad alleges that Bashar al-Assad's government has effectively turned the nation "into the world's newest narcostate." The country is producing mass quantities of captagon, a once-legal drug that was banned internationally in the 1980s because it's so addictive, according to the Times. Much of it reportedly goes to Saudi Arabia, but seizures are up exponentially across the world from just a few years ago.
The story asserts that the Syrian army's elite Fourth Armored Division—led by Assad's younger brother, Maher al-Assad—oversees rapidly increasing production and distribution. As the reporters tell it, Syria got into the drug operation gradually. "Enterprising Syrians" began refitting abandoned factories to produce the drug so they could sell the pills to soldiers on both sides of the nation's civil war. Assad allies got more involved as they saw the potential for huge profits at a time when the entire nation was in dire financial straits. The result? It's now a multi-billion operation that dwarfs the scope of Syria's legal exports, per the Times. One looming fear is that Syria has begun to move on to more dangerous drugs such as crystal meth. (Read the full story.)