Syria and Drugs: Little known consequences of the conflict

Where there’s chaos, you’re sure to find drugs, and there’s nowhere more chaotic at the moment than Syria. The opponents of President Assad had hoped for a quick revolution, but instead there has been a drawn-out and devastating civil war with no end in sight. Since April 2011, no-one has been in control of the country. It would make sense for drug traffickers to use this instability to their advantage, so it’s not surprising that Dubai police report a growing trend of people trying to smuggle drugs into Syria. These drugs would then be smuggled into Turkey and ultimately Europe. Recently Assad’s government announced that traffickers will now face harsher penalties, including in some cases execution. It seems unlikely however that this threat will stem the tide.

Because of the illegality of drugs, drug traffickers feed off of anarchy. In Latin America and West Africa the traffickers try their best to generate it themselves, but in Syria it is already provided. And it would be in their interests to prolong the war. Assad’s supporters have accused the Free Syrian Army of being funded by drug trafficking, and the Free Syrian Army has accused Assad’s forces of taking drugs to boost their energy. Viktor Ivanov, the Head of Russia’s Federal Narcotics Service, has even said that there are up to 20,000 mercenaries fighting in Syria, paid for by the proceeds of Afghan heroin. However none of these claims are backed up by solid evidence.

Drug trafficking is one thing, but there is a good chance that the traffickers have found a market in Syria itself. In 2009, the counternarcotics office in Aleppo estimated that the number of people who were drug dependent in Syria was 3 per 10,000 people, so roughly 6,750 in total. However last year the Interior Minister declared that the number had dropped to 4,611 in 2011, which would mean Syria has one of the lowest rates of drug dependency in the world. Of course it’s hard to obtain an accurate number of people who are drug dependent, especially if you’re in the middle of a civil war.

But we have good reason to believe that the figure is much higher. For very many people across the world, drug use is a form of escapism, and this is particularly true for those who have experienced terrible things or even committed them. However the “fog of war” is preventing us from seeing a clear picture. Charities and governments are swamped by the humanitarian crises in the refugee camps, and don’t have the resources to investigate drug use amongst the millions of people who have fled their homeland.

If you’re in one of the countries affected by the conflict in Syria, or even in Syria itself, please contact us through Twitter or Facebook and tell us what you’ve seen or heard about the role drugs play in the lives of people uprooted by the war.