What will they think of next? A relatively new synthetic opioid referred to as “W-18,” recently found in pills in Canada, is believed to be 10,000 times more potent than morphine and 100 times more potent than fentanyl. Fentanyl is prescribed to treat severe pain, but this heavy narcotic can also cause life-threatening respiratory complications when taken in high doses or when it is combined with other substances. All of these drugs, either in a pharmaceutical grade or an extract from opium in poppy plants, often result in a high risk of dependency. This relatively new synthetic opioid, W-18, has been showing up in drug busts in Canada since the last summer. In August 2015, 110 pills were seized in a search that took place in Calgary, Alberta. Those pills were sent to the organization Health Canada to be analyzed. The results of the analysis were given back to the Calgary Police in late December. The Health Canada tests revealed the presence of W-18 in some of the seized pills.
With such a powerful substance the possibility of death from overdose is obviously much, much greater. W-18 is most likely imported from China where many other obscure, newly synthesized research chemicals have been found to be originating from. W-18 is presumed to be shipped in a powder form and then it is pressed into pill form in basement labs once it’s in the country. Therefore the amount of W-18 present in each pill will vary. With a drug of such high potency, the margin of error between creating the desired effect and overdose and death is minuscule, as anyone can imagine. W-18 is yet to be regulated under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act in Canada.
The more common synthetic opioid, fentanyl, is a controlled substance and as of October of 2015 fentanyl has been regulated in China, where it was being imported from. Fentanyl has been an issue of growing concern in Alberta since 2014. In 2015, it was linked to over 200 deaths in the province. W-18 is likely being sold as fentanyl on the streets. Martin Schiavetta of the Calgary Police Serving Drug Unit believes drug dealers may not even be aware they are selling W-18 as fentanyl. Manufacturers could be shipping the much more potent drug to buyers interested in fentanyl since W-18 hasn’t been made illegal yet. In transporting the legal substance, the exporters overseas don’t have to take any risks with consequences of the law.
Sergeant Jason Walker of the Calgary Police commented that, “we’re just learning what W-18 is. Medical professionals don’t yet clinically understand what it might do to you.” Walker compared the situation as similar to back when fentanyl was just hitting the streets. “Years ago we didn’t really know what fentanyl was. Fentanyl is what’s on our plate today, but tomorrow it could be something different.” Like other research chemicals, W-18 can be ordered over the internet by those who know how to access the Chinese research chemical manufacturers’ online purchasing platforms.