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Italy reports "biggest seizure of amphetamines in the world": $1B worth of pills from ISIS in Syria

Rome — Italian police said Wednesday that they had seized a world record 15-ton haul of amphetamines made by ISIS in Syria. The drug, in the form of 84 million Captagon tablets, was worth about one billion euros ($1.1 billion), police said in a statement, describing the operation as "the biggest seizure of amphetamines in the world."

"We know that the Islamic State finances its terrorist activities mainly by trafficking drugs made in Syria, which in the past few years has become the world's largest producer of amphetamines," the statement added.

The shipment was hidden in three containers found in the port of Salerno, just south of Naples.

Video posted to the Italian Financial Guard military force's Twitter page showed agents using saws to cut into large paper and steel drums to reveal thousands of tablets stuffed inside. 

Captagon, a brand name, was originally for medical use but illegal versions have been dubbed "the Jihad Drug" after being widely used by ISIS fighters in combat, the police noted.

Two years ago, U.S.-allied Free Syrian Army rebels in Syria found and destroyed a cache of Captagon worth an estimated $1.4 million, according to the U.S. military. The Pentagon said the FSA forces found the drugs during anti-ISIS operations near al-Tanf, an area on Syria's southeast border with Iraq, on May 31, 2018.

Captagon use outside the Middle East was still negligible, according to data provided in 2104 by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), but at that time it was a major problem in the Arab Gulf and was starting to pop up more in North Africa.

First produced by scientists in the West to treat hyperactivity, depression and other disorders in the 1960s, Captagon was banned in most places just a couple decades later because it's so addictive.

Lebanese psychiatrist Ramzi Haddad told the Reuters news agency in 2014 that Captagon effects users in the same way as many stimulants: "It gives you a kind of euphoria. You're talkative, you don't sleep, you don't eat, you're energetic."

Haddad said the drug was cheap and easy to manufacture, with little more than a "basic knowledge of chemistry and a few scales" required.

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