The Canadian Police has seized a new illicit drug that is 100 times more deadly than fentanyl and 10,000 times more potent than morphine.
During a fentanyl investigation in December 2015, the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team confiscated approximately 4 kilograms of W-18 powder in Edmonton. The amount can produce "hundreds of millions" W-18 pills. Officials have issued a public warning about the appearance of this new deadly drug in case some of the pills have already found their way on the streets.
Early this year, W-18 pills were also discovered in Calgary. Experts warned that even a tiny amount can be fatal.
According to Alberta Health Services' Dr. Laura Calhoun, apart from having no medical use, current lab tests cannot detect W-18. This could be fatally dangerous in cases of overdose.
W-18 is an opioid, which suggests that naloxone can be used as a first aid to temporarily stop the overdose effects.
"W-18 is not part of routine drug testing and cannot be detected in urine drug tests. ... Once naloxone is used, they should call 911," said Calhoun. "Our message to the public is this: No matter what drug you use, fentanyl and W-18 may be hiding in it. And they may kill you."
W-18 comes as a series of opioid compounds called the "W-series." These compounds were discovered in 1982 by University of Alberta researchers. In total, there are 32 opioid compounds in the series, with W-18 bearing the highest level of toxicity.
To date, this new drug is not regulated under the Controlled Drug and Substances Act of Canada. This means that W-18 can be produced and sold anywhere.
W-18 is manufactured in China just like fentanyl, said Martin Schiavetta, a Calgary Police Service Drug Unit staff sergeant. The majority of the W-18 drugs could be coming into the country through the British Columbia ports.
"There is no way to really reduce the supply side because it's being produced in a foreign country. We really have to focus on the demand side, through awareness education and prevention," said Schiavetta.
In comparison, there had been at least 1,019 drug poisoning-related deaths in Canada between 2009 and 2014, wherein fentanyl (PDF) was found in the post-mortem toxicological screenings.
Photo: Dimitris Kalogeropoylos | Flickr