There has been a dangerous increase in the use and production of narcotics across Syria. Despite the region’s official economy shrinking by more than 60 percent since the start of the war, profits from illicit activities such as drug trafficking have done nothing but increase. While the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) has touted a recent anti-drug operation that resulted in the arrests of several drug dealers and the seizure of approximately half a million Captagon pills as evidence of their opposition to the proliferation of narcotics, the number of users and scale of production has continued to increase.
Captagon has become mass produced in Syria as the war has continued, and it has risen to prominence largely as a result of its reported effects on combatants in war. There are many reports of ISIS fighters being turned into “supersoldiers” by the drug’s effects. As the ISIS “caliphate” collapsed, the attention shifted towards the smuggling routes that lead through regime-held and Turkish-held territory.
While officially opposing the use and production of narcotics, it has been reported that low-level drug dealers will be arrested by the “Syrian National Army” while higher-level narco-entrepreneurs cultivate ties with militia leaders that allow them to operate freely.
Overall drug-trafficking in northern Syria is reportedly controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and Syrian National Army-affiliated parties, and the facilitation of these substances into Turkey has been done by individual traffickers.
Due to overwhelming sanctions on the Syrian economy, it has become increasingly difficult to raise money through legal methods in the country. The economic situation has become more difficult as the war has progressed. This has pushed different actors, both armed groups and individuals, to pursue illegal enterprises. In the Turkish-occupied regions, confirmed reports of human trafficking, theft, and extortion continue to come out, alongside the increase in production, use, and smuggling of narcotics. The United Nations has specifically referred to Afrin as lacking “an effective security apparatus and attendant absence of rule of law”. Without these essential factors, the issue of drug trafficking will remain a persistent symptom of the Syrian conflict.