Abu Dhabi Police seize 4.5 million Captagon tablets stashed in cans of green beans

Suspect planned to transport drugs haul to a neighbouring Middle East country, police say

The tins contained millions of Captagon tablets. Photo: Abu Dhabi Police
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Related: Captagon crisis and the Middle East's war on drugs

A man who allegedly tried to smuggle 4.5 million Captagon tablets in cans of green beans has been arrested in Abu Dhabi.

Police said the suspect planned to transport the huge haul of illicit drugs to a neighbouring Middle Eastern country.

Brig Gen Taher Al Dhaheri, director of Abu Dhabi Police's anti-narcotics team, said the plot was thwarted thanks to a successful surveillance operation.

Officers had tracked the man's movements after being alerted of a plan to bring the drugs to the UAE before they were shipped to their final destination.

The estimated value of the pills was not revealed.

Earlier this month Dubai Police foiled an attempt to sell 620,000 Captagon tablets, valued at Dh31 million.

Captagon is widely viewed as the most in-demand narcotic in the Middle East.

The war on Captagon

It was created in 1961 as an alternative to amphetamines and methamphetamines, and was used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and, less commonly, depression.

The drug, however, was never given regulatory approval by the US Food and Drug Administration. In 1981, it was declared a controlled substance after the medical community determined that its addictive properties outweighed its clinical benefits.

By 1986, manufacturing Captagon had been outlawed in almost every country, but illegal production of the drug continued.

Criminal gangs from Bulgaria and Turkey are believed to have helped to introduce Captagon to the Middle East, where production has flourished in territory beyond the control of fragile states such as Syria and Lebanon.

Today, most of the pills being sold as Captagon across the region have little in common with the tablets produced in the 1960s.

Although stamped with the Captagon logo, these counterfeit pills — often white or yellowish brown in colour — are much less likely to contain fenethylline, the chemical used in the original tablets.

They are instead more often made up of a mix of other amphetamine derivatives that are easier to produce, as well as additives such as caffeine, quinine and paracetamol.

Trade in Captagon in the Middle East grew exponentially in 2021 to exceed $5 billion, posing an increasing health and security risk to the region, a 2022 report said.

Research by the New Lines Institute painted an alarming picture of the impact booming Captagon production is having on the region.

“The Captagon trade is a rapidly growing illicit economy in the Middle East and Mediterranean,” said the report, written by analysts Caroline Rose and Alexander Soderholm.

Updated: February 28, 2023, 8:38 AM