The most deadly opiate known has arrived in the Lower Mainland, as police found it during raids in Surrey, Burnaby and Richmond.
The drug is known as W-18 and was first created at the University of Alberta in 1982, was patented in the U.S. a couple of years later, but was never used medically.
Medical experts believe it may have been just too strong for pharmaceutical use.
It is believed to be 100 times more potent than Fentanyl, which is responsible for several deaths in the Lower Mainland.
Now, it’s here.
On March 17, 2016 as part of an investigation initiated by the Delta Police Department, search warrants were executed at three separate locations in Burnaby, Surrey and Richmond. What was believed to be a fentanyl processing lab was uncovered.
However, much of the drug was also found to contain W-18, prompting a warning from the Delta Police Department.
“The street level use of drugs like W-18 is still in its infancy in Canada and it appears users are completely unaware of its presence in the drugs they are consuming,” said Delta Chief Constable Neil Dubord. “It is very apparent to us that drug traffickers are aware of the deadly game they are playing with human lives in the manufacture and sale of these counterfeit drugs. In the seizures done by our investigators, the accused were carefully protecting themselves with respirators, gloves and goggles during the process and yet went on to knowingly sell this product to unsuspecting users. The motivation of these individuals to make money clearly supersedes their social responsibility in this equation.”
Drug investigators believe that the W-18 was being manufactured to appear like heroin or oxycodone before being sold at the street level. For users, this results in a much higher and deadly risk of overdose as they are exposed to a drug they have no tolerance for. In many cases, users are not aware that W-18 (and/or fentanyl) is in the drug that they are consuming. Because the counterfeit heroin and oxycodone are manufactured in clandestine labs, there is no guarantee that the W-18 or fentanyl is evenly distributed or mixed throughout the cutting agent. This causes street users to face potential overdoses from “hot spots” of fentanyl or W-18.
It was only this month that it was added to the Class A narcotic under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, meaning it is now illegal.
Because of that the two people arrested cannot be charged with having W-18, but will fact charges related to cocaine and fentanyl.
While Delta Police advise against using drugs, for people who choose to use Delta Police are offering the following reminders:
- fentanyl and W-18 cannot be detected by looks, smell or taste and are being misrepresented and sold by drug dealers as other drugs;
- do not use alone and start with a small amount;
- do not mix with other substances as it can increase the risk of overdose;
- use where help is easily available;
- do not be afraid to call 9-1-1 for assistance.
Provincial Medical Health Officer Perry Kendall said Tuesday it was just a matter of time before the drug made its way to the Lower Mainland.
“It wasn’t unexpected, and if it gets into the drug supply, I think we would be very concerned about it,” Kendall told The Leader in an interview.
He has seen reports that it is 100 times more potent than fentanyl, but says he hasn’t seen any hard science behind that claim.
Kendall believes it will respond to naloxone, a drug which counters the effects of opioids, such as fentanyl and heroin.
He said it’s possible the drug may become unpopular and will simply no longer be used.
“If you look at the epidemiology of specific drug use, a particular drug does become popular for a period of time,” Kendall said, pointing to the use of crystal methamphetamine which became popular about 15 years ago.
“The users become very aware of the potential side effects, and use tends to decrease,” Kendall said.
The insidious nature of this drug is that the users are unaware that they are taking it. It’s being sold as heroin.
“At some point, presumably the drug becomes too dangerous, and people become too aware of it to use it,” he said. However, he notes, the use of it doesn’t appear to have plateaued yet.
In the meantime, the best protection against overdose is education.
Kendall says users should know their supplier well, never use alone, and always have naloxone available in case of overdose.
“Maybe at some point we’ll reach the point where we figure that having people taking very dangerous illicit drugs is not a good thing and maybe we will come up with a legal substitute,” Kendall said. “But I think we’re quite a way away from that at the present time.”
To date, 5 individuals have been arrested in connection with the Delta Police investigation. 35-year-old Scott Pipping of Surrey and 27-year-old Adam Summers of Delta are facing over 20 charges and are being held in custody. Three other individuals have also been arrested for various offences including trafficking in a controlled substance with charges against them pending.