The lion's share of amphetamines being consumed in the Middle East is seized in Saudi Arabia, according to the latest global drug abuse report.
It is forbidden by Islam to ingest any intoxicant, or even to smoke tobacco – and in deeply conservative Saudi Arabia, “respectable” women are expected to cover themselves from head to toe if they set foot out the door. Nor do they generally walk through the streets without a male escort.
Whether it is despite or because of the restrictions on drinking and smoking, the 2010 World Drug Report, published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, shows that Saudi authorities seized nearly 13 metric tons of amphetamines in 2008, out of a total of 15.3 metric tons in the entire Middle East.
The total amount of amphetamines seized throughout the world that year was 24.3 metric tons.
Matthew Nice, a UNODC amphetamine-type stimulants expert, told CNN on Friday, “I can't emphasize enough the size of this. Fifteen metric tons is absolutely huge. It's absolutely phenomenal. We're really struggling because the information base is so limited. It's definitely just the tip of the iceberg.”
One of the stimulants at the top of the seizure list is the pharmaceutical stimulant Captagon, which contains the synthetic stimulant fenetylline. It was invented in 1963 for use in treating Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy, and in some cases, depression as well. The product was taken off the market in 1986 after being listed by the World Health Organization under the Convention on Psychotropic Substances.
Narcotics producers in southeastern Europe have apparently been producing counterfeit Captagon tablets since the real thing was taken off the market in the 1980s. The fake, which also bears the Captagon logo, contains amphetamine mixed with caffeine and who-knows-what-else.
Not Just Amphetamines
However, it is not just amphetamines that are the problem, according to Professor Jallal Toufiq, founder of the Middle East and North Africa Harm Reduction Association.
Toufiq told CNN that all kinds of drugs are being abused in the region, and that abuse is growing. The problem, he said, is the lack of research and information.
“In the Middle East and North Africa region there's a huge void in terms of data and information,” he said. “For many countries there is a lack of political willingness because people just don't want to deal with this.”