Amman, Jordan – The beds are full at the National Centre for the Rehabilitation of Addicts (NCRA), one of only two public addiction rehabilitation facilities in Jordan.
In the midst of the busy centre, Ahmad*, 34, takes a breath in the facility’s garden. The young man is on his eighth day of treatment for addiction to crystal methamphetamine.
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Cases of crystal meth abuse are rising throughout Jordan – according to doctors and scientists, the drug is even more addictive and dangerous than the now widely-available and also highly-addictive amphetamine, captagon.
“On crystal [meth], I felt I was a different person,” he told Al Jazeera, glancing down at the tattoo sleeves that envelop his arms, his brothers’ names inscribed around each bicep. “I love my siblings so much. My brothers are the ones closest to me,” he said, “But on crystal [meth] I started getting paranoid around them, and starting fights. I hit one of them.”
The powerful stimulant can severely affect the brain’s structure and function, often radically changing one’s behaviours and emotions. Heavy users are often more easily paranoid, aggressive and violent.
“I lost my job, my home, and my family’s trust in me,” Ahmad said.
Raed Bader, the head of the rehab facility, estimates that approximately three patients are admitted daily into the facility for abusing crystal meth, often done in combination with other drugs, notably captagon, cocaine and hashish. And hundreds more arrive at the facility each month who test positive for meth, but choose not to stay, Bader told Al Jazeera, adding that there were 400 positive narcotics tests in July alone.
“We are trying to raise awareness, but the numbers [of drug users] keep increasing,” Bader said.
Other doctors also confirmed to Al Jazeera the rise in crystal meth abuse among their patients. Tamer al-Masri, a doctor who provides home treatment to those struggling with addiction, said that over half of his current patients are abusing crystal meth, compared with just 15 to 20 percent before 2021.
The drug has spread like wildfire throughout Iraq – a dangerous warning for Jordan, which like its neighbour, also suffers from rampant unemployment that creates an ideal climate for drug abuse to thrive.
“Crystal [meth] is becoming more popular than captagon,” Ahmad said. “Everyone has started taking crystal [meth].”
Drones laden with drugs and weapons are now infiltrating Jordan’s borders at a record pace. Authorities have intercepted nine “narco-drones” crossing from Syria this year, confiscating kilos of crystal meth and captagon in the recent busts.
But unlike the captagon transiting en masse through Jordan to Arab Gulf countries, most of the crystal meth entering Jordan is destined for local consumption, Katrina Sammour, a Jordanian analyst who follows the drug trade from Syria, told Al Jazeera.
With meth pouring into Jordan, the price has dropped significantly. In 2018, when crystal meth was first noticed in the country, local media outlets reported that a gram cost about $100, the high price making the drug inaccessible for many. Now, a gram sells for as low as $35, and up to $56, depending on supply and demand, according to Sammour’s estimates.
Last year, Jordan’s Anti-Narcotics Department (AND) confiscated 56.7kg of crystal meth, citing a 100 percent increase in the number of narcotics seizures compared to 2021. This year, between February and July, the department had already confiscated nearly 50kg.
Fighters from a Syrian opposition faction known as the Syrian Free Army (SFA), who patrol segments of the Jordan-Syria border within the “deconfliction zone” near the United States’ al-Tanf base, also said they confiscated their first-ever seizure of crystal meth this January, according to a spokesperson, Abd al-Razak Khider.
The meth comes mostly from the wider region’s hubs of production, Iran and Afghanistan, noted Sammour. But, she added, small amounts are also likely produced in factories in the south of Syria, where the highly efficient distribution centres are able to push the flow of narcotics under the supervision of the Syrian military.
The uptick in crystal meth shipments across Jordan’s northern border shows that captagon smuggling networks are “seeking to diversify their operations and increase their profit margins”, Caroline Rose, the director of the captagon project at the New Lines Institute, told Al Jazeera.
“Smugglers are seeking to expand crystal meth demand markets in Jordan, Syria and Gulf destination markets,” Rose added.
Drones can carry just a few grams of crystal meth and still be profitable, unlike captagon, which is only profitable if sold in massive quantities and so still primarily depends on ground trafficking, Sammour noted.
‘Ticking time bomb’
The drugs entering Jordan are a “ticking time bomb”, Sammour said. For the areas already in the grip of poverty and crime, adding more drugs to the mix means a crippling public health crisis may be on the horizon.
In East Amman, a lower-income area of the capital, drug use is rampant, and now crystal meth is increasingly creeping into the alleyways.
“Everyone is taking crystal [meth]. It’s insane,” said 25-year-old Khaled*, who grew up in East Amman’s Jabal al-Taj neighbourhood, an area notorious for drugs and crime. “Drugs are a normal thing here,” he said, claiming that almost every man above the age of 20 uses drugs.
Khaled said he has only tried crystal meth once, but used to frequently take captagon and was hooked on “joker”, a synthetic form of marijuana. Khaled’s oldest brother has sixteen charges for drug possession and dealing, and has already been to prison five or six times, he said. After spending three years in jail, Khaled’s uncle also returned to selling drugs again at the start of the year – and this time he’s selling crystal meth and his business is booming, Khaled said.
For hourly-wage and labour-intensive jobs, stimulants like captagon and crystal meth can help overstrained workers boost productivity and earnings – in World War II methamphetamines helped some pilots stay awake through long battles. “You need to show your boss you are a hard worker,” Khaled, who works in the hotel industry, said. “Because if you don’t work as the boss wants, it’s over.”
Ahmad, from the rehab facility, used to drive trucks and operate heavy machinery. In these jobs, he said it was also “all about drugs”. “They stimulated us and gave us energy and vigour,” he added.
But, in the end, “the harm was bigger than the benefit,” he said. Ahmad hopes after leaving the rehab facility he can start a business of his own, and regain the trust of his family. “I want to return to my beautiful life,” he concluded.
* Some names have been changed for privacy reasons