In recent years, widespread concerns have emerged about the transformation of Syria into a "narco-state," specifically in relation to reports about the allegedly growing production of the stimulant drug captagon inside Syria, and the smuggling of the drug both within the country and outside its borders.
These concerns have been amplified by the interdicting of large quantities of the drug in both Europe and the Middle East, with a growing number of media reports focusing on the topic. It is Syria's immediate southern neighbor Jordan that seems most concerned about the influx of captagon and other drugs coming from its northern neighbor, even though Jordan has been keen for a normalization of relations with the Bashar al-Assad-led government in Damascus. Jordan believes the support it previously offered for the insurgency in southern Syria damaged its economy by blocking overland trade.
Conversely, opponents of the government now frequently highlight the captagon issue as a reason for countries not to normalize relations with Damascus. The issue has even garnered U.S. attention through the passing of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2023, which requires the development of a strategy to "disrupt and dismantle narcotics production and trafficking and affiliated networks linked to the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria."
In light of the issue's growing popularity in both popular media and think-tank discussions, this report seeks to disentangle the noise and headlines and get to the crux of the matter by determining which parties in Syria are responsible for the production and smuggling of captagon and how serious a problem captagon production and smuggling should be considered. Does the drug's production and smuggling pose a threat to U.S. interests? Does the issue require a new strategy, or are existing measures to counteract production and smuggling sufficient?
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