The epidemic of opioid abuse and addiction, which has led to some of the highest accidental death rates in two decades, has just been struck another blow. In August 2015, law enforcement in Calgary, Canada served a search warrant and seized 110 pills.
After analysis, officials at Health Canada stated that the drugs contained W-18, a synthetic opioid with no accepted medical use and a potency 10,000 times greater than morphine.
This is the first time that Canadian officials have come across the powerful opioid. To date there have been no reports of W-18 in the United States, though, experts find it hard to believe that the drug hasn’t made the short trip across the border. “I can guarantee you, there’s more out there,” Staff Sgt. Jason Walker of the Calgary Police told a Canadian news outlet. “We just haven’t seen it yet.”
Canada is not alone in its fight against opioid addiction. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported that fatal overdoses related to prescription painkillers and heroin are up in virtually every county across the United States. If W-18 becomes readily available on the street, the consequences will be deadly.
What Do Researchers Know About the Drug W-18?
There is little known about W-18 because, so far, it’s been a rare find in North America. However, researchers report the following:
- Originates in powder form containing a synthetic opioid and a psychoactive substance
- It has a unique chemical structure and is not closely related to other families of opioid drugs, making it more difficult to detect when mixed with other drugs, such as fentanyl
- It is a 100 times more powerful than fentanyl and in animal studies has been shown to be 10,000 times stronger than morphine
- The likelihood of fatal overdose is incredibly high due to the fact that pills containing W-18 are pressed in homemade labs and, therefore, mixed with other unknown substances at varying consistencies and dosages
Where Does W-18 Come From?
Calgary Police Officer Martin Schiavetta said in an interview, “We believe W-18 would be coming from China.” Compounds like fentanyl came under regulation in China, in 2015, but W-18 isn’t closely related to fentanyl and other opioid drugs. This frees up chemists in China to mass produce the drug and peddle it online.
Shiavetta added that it comes down to availability, and drug dealers are ignorant and unconcerned about what they’re selling to customers.
Last year the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued a nationwide alert about a surge in deaths from heroin laced with fentanyl. Seizures of fentanyl in the U.S. more than tripled between 2013 and 2014, with much of the drug, like W-18, believed to be smuggled in from rogue labs in China.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently classified prescription drug abuse in the United States as an epidemic, mostly focused on opioid painkillers and heroin.
A 2010 Stanford University School of Medicine study found 68 percent of hospital emergency room overdoses were opioid-related, and 16 percent were caused by heroin.
There is currently little to no public awareness about the dangers of W-18. At a time when policymakers and healthcare professionals are attempting to slow the tide of opioid addiction and fatal overdoses, the potential arrival of a new drug will pose incredible challenges.
Treatment for opioid addiction can be very effective and is recommended for anyone struggling with addiction to heroin or prescription painkillers.