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Saudi Arabia Makes Unlikely Pairing With Drug Company Pfizer

By McCarton Ackerman 01/06/14

Despite their strict laws against drugs, the Saudis have said they need drugs to combat growing instances of chronic diseases.

Soon to be a mecca for prescription drugs.
Photo via Shutterstock

Saudi Arabia has some of the strictest drug possession laws in the world, but it’s about to become a major player in pharmaceutical drug manufacturing. Drug company Pfizer is planning to set up factories throughout Saudi Arabia and is expecting to have an output capacity of 18 million packs per year when it starts production in 2015. Minister of Labor Engineer Adel Fakieh Al-Hakim confirmed that the Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA) established “Saudi Pfizer Company Limited” factory for the production of the company’s medicine at King Abdullah Economic City.

Al-Hakim justified the decision by acknowledging the growing increase of Saudis with chronic diseases like diabetes, heart illness, and obesity. However, visitors to the strict Muslim country are forbidden from bringing in any narcotics, pills or alcohol, and there are also no bars or liquor stores in the entire country. Convicted drug users are subjected to lengthy jail sentences, heavy fines, public floggings, or deportation, while the only punishment for drug trafficking in Saudi Arabia is death by hanging. The U.S. State Department also advises tourists that “Saudis make no exceptions.”

However, the strict laws hardly mean that drugs and alcohol are not to be found in Saudi Arabia. The conservative country has quickly become a hotbed for amphetamines, with the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime reporting that 30% of all the amphetamines seized worldwide came from Saudi Arabia. Most of the amphetamines used in Saudi Arabia come in the form of Captagon tablets, a synthetic stimulant used to treat Attention Deficit Disorders. Saudi authorities confiscated a staggering 70 million Captagon tablets last year and half of all rehab patients are Captagon addicts. Alcohol is also regularly consumed by Western expatriates, who often live in lavish compounds that allow them to drink booze brewed themselves in a secluded manner.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.

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