Egypt says cheap new drug ‘Strox’ threatens its youth

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A youth rolls a cigarette with a new kind of drug called "Strox", in Cairo Egypt October 14, 2018. Picture taken October 14, 2018. (Reuters)
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A youth holds a rolled cigarette containing a new kind of drug called "Strox", in Cairo Egypt October 14, 2018. Picture taken October 14, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 20 November 2018
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Egypt says cheap new drug ‘Strox’ threatens its youth

CAIRO: For years, Mostafa Mahmoud struggled to pay for his expensive drug addiction, spending much of his meagre income on hashish. A few months ago, he switched to a cheaper way to get high which he says is pushing him to his death.
The 27-year-old man is among a growing number of Egyptians using Strox, a potent narcotic that is mixed with tobacco and smoked, and that Egyptian officials see as one of the biggest threats to the country’s young population.
Drug addiction has long been a problem in Egypt, the most populous country in the Arab world with nearly 100 million. But the speed at which Strox use is spreading has posed a new challenge.
Experts say the drug is made in local workshops by adding chemicals often used by veterinarians to a herb like marjoram. Some add pesticides for greater impact, but effectively make the drug more deadly.
Users describe painful convulsions leading to hallucinations and loss of consciousness.
Authorities say the drug has killed dozens of people and has caused a spike in crime.
“It is cheaper than hashish, but when you smoke it you choke, pass out and suffer cramps,” said Mahmoud, who lost his job at a fruit shop due to his drug habit.
While the price for one hashish joint was 50 Egyptian pounds ($2.80), he said two Strox joints cost 30 pounds.
It is spreading in impoverished areas, where living standards have plunged since a 2016 IMF-backed reforms package forced currency devaluation and cut state subsidies. Many victims are aged 15 to 20, according to Amr Othman, director of the state-run drug rehabilitation fund.
While statistics are scarce, officials say some 104,000 drug addicts were receiving free treatment at a rehabilitation center run by the ministry of social solidarity.
Of those, about 25 percent are Strox addicts, officials said, up from 4.5 percent last year.
The number of arrests is also up. Over the past six months, the number of Strox-related arrests soared by 300 percent, and Strox addicts have surged to 40 percent of total drug users in Egypt from 9 percent of the total at the start of the year, according to a security source estimate.
Experts say Strox is a type of synthetic narcotic like those that spread in Western nations more than a decade ago.
“Some are 100 times more potent than others,” said Justice Tettey, chief of the laboratory and scientific section at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Egypt.
“The frightening part is not that it’s more potent than cannabis,” he said. “It’s that most people have no idea what they’re taking. Your first one or next one could be your last one,” he added.
“I don’t know why I use it. It is awful,” Mahmoud said, describing waking up after one session to find a friend had died in his sleep from an overdose. Mahmoud and his friends were held for a few months but later freed without charge.
Recognizing the threat, authorities in September banned the unlicensed sale of chemicals used to make Strox.
Othman said the decision came due to combined efforts by the ministries of health, justice and interior.
Authorities have also enlisted the country’s mosques, devoting a Friday sermon to rally Muslims against drugs.
“Just as we are in a comprehensive fight against terrorism, we need a quick and comprehensive battle against addiction and drugs,” the sermon said. “Drugs are another kind of terrorism.”

($1 = 17.8600 Egyptian pounds)


US weighing options on American Daesh sympathizer in Syria

A member of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) stands guard on top of a building on February 17, 2019, in the frontline Syrian village of Baghuz. (AFP)
Updated 1 min 12 sec ago
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US weighing options on American Daesh sympathizer in Syria

  • Neither option would likely pass muster in the cases of US citizens, who enjoy strong legal protections under the Constitution

WASHINGTON: The United States said Tuesday it wanted to ensure foreign terrorists remain off the battlefield as it weighed options on an American detained in Syria who says she wants to return home.
The United States has urged European powers to take back hundreds of their citizens who fought with the Daesh group in Syria, but acknowledged the situation was complex in the rare case of an American terrorist.
Hoda Muthana, a 24-year-old from Alabama who became a prominent online agitator for the extremists, said in an interview published Sunday with The Guardian that she had been brainwashed online and “deeply regrets” joining the movement.
While declining to discuss Muthana’s case specifically, State Department deputy spokesman Robert Palladino said that the status of US citizens detained in Syria “is by definition extremely complicated.”
“We’re looking into these cases to better understand the details,” he told reporters.
Palladino said that the United States generally did not see a different solution between what to do with US fighters and with foreigners, saying the fighters pose “a global threat.”
“Repatriating these foreign terrorist fighters to their countries of origin, ensuring that they are prosecuted and detained — that’s the best solution, preventing them from returning to the battlefield,” he said.
The situation of foreign terrorists detained by US-allied Kurdish forces has taken a new urgency as President Donald Trump plans to withdraw US troops from Syria.
The Syrian Democratic Forces say they may have to refocus on fighting Turkey, which has vowed to crush Kurdish fighters it links to separatists at home.
Trump has contemplated reopening the US military base at Guantanamo Bay to take in new foreign inmates, while Britain on Tuesday revoked the citizenship of a female terrorsist who wanted to return home with her newborn baby.
Neither option would likely pass muster in the cases of US citizens, who enjoy strong legal protections under the Constitution.
Muthana, who was married three times to terrorists and has a son with one of her husbands, fled her family in 2014 to join the Daesh group in Syria, where she took to Twitter to urge attacks on fellow Americans.
In the interview with The Guardian, Muthana said that she was “really young and ignorant” when she joined Daesh and has since renounced radicalism.
“I believe that America gives second chances. I want to return and I’ll never come back to the Middle East,” she told the newspaper.
Hassan Shilby, a lawyer for Muthana, told ABC television’s “Good Morning America” that the young woman had been “brainwashed and manipulated” and is “absolutely disgusted” by the person she became.