- The Washington Times - Friday, November 20, 2015

New evidence has emerged that a tiny, highly addictive pill commonly known as Captagon is fueling the war in Syria and its fighters.

According to new investigations by both Reuters and Time magazine, the illegal drug is being used both to keep Syrian fighters on their feet and is likely being used to fund the weapons trade in the region.

The illegal sale of Captagon, the brand name of the original synthetic amphetamine drug known as “fenethylline,” funnels hundreds of millions of dollars back into Syria’s black-market economy each year, likely giving militias access to new arms, fighters and the ability to prolong the conflict, according to The Guardian. 

The drug quickly produces a euphoric intensity in users, allowing fighters to stay up for days and attack with reckless abandon. 

“You can’t sleep or even close your eyes, forget about it,” said a Lebanese user, one of three who appeared on camera without their names for a BBC Arabic documentary that aired in September. “And whatever you take to stop it, nothing can stop it.”

“I felt like I own the world high,” another user said. “Like I have power nobody has. A really nice feeling.”

“There was no fear anymore after I took Captagon,” a third man added.

A drug control officer in the city of Homs told Reuters that interrogators would have to wait for the effects of Captagon to wear off before questioning detained fighters. 

“We would beat them, and they wouldn’t feel the pain,” the officer said, Reuters reported. “Many of them would laugh while we were dealing them heavy blows. We would leave the prisoners for about 48 hours without questioning them while the effects of Captagon wore off, and then interrogation would become easier.” 

The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime said Syria has typically been a transit point for drugs coming from Europe, Turkey and Lebanon en route to the Gulf States. 

But amid the 4½-year-long civil war raging in the country now, armed groups have turned Syria into a major drug producer. 

It is cheap and easy to produce using legal materials and can be purchased for less than $20 a tablet, The Guardian reported. 

Doctors told the BBC that the drug has dangerous side effects, including psychosis and brain damage. 

One ex-Syrian fighter said the drug is tailor-made for the battlefield because of its ability to give soldiers incredible energy and courage. 

“So the brigade leader came and told us, ‘This pill gives you energy, try it,’ ” he said. “So we took it the first time. We felt physically fit. And if there were 10 people in front of you, you could catch them and kill them. You’re awake all the time. You don’t have any problems, you don’t even think about sleeping, you don’t think to leave the checkpoint. It gives you great courage and power. If the leader told you to go break into a military barracks, I will break in with a brave heart and without any feeling of fear at all — you’re not even tired.”

During a raid in Alforttville, a Paris suburb, French police found needles that the Paris attackers had used to inject themselves with Captagon, McClatchy reported Wednesday. 

Police believe the drug helped the killers remain calm enough to carry out their brutal massacres. 

Captagon was used in the West since the 1960 when it was given to people suffering from hyperactivity, narcolepsy and depression, Reuters reported. Most countries banned the drug in the 1980s due to its addictive qualities.

The U.S. classified fenethylline as a Schedule I drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act in 1981, The Washington Post reported.

• Kellan Howell can be reached at khowell@washingtontimes.com.

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