Emergency room doctors in the Canadian cities of Calgary and Edmonton are being warned about the police seizure of shipments of the illegal drug W-18, which is believed to be 10,000 times as potent as morphine.
The drug, a synthetic opioid patented in 1984 in the United States and Canada, is being manufactured in labs in China. It produces a euphoria similar to that given by fentanyl.
An internal memo warned the doctors to expect a spike in the number of overdose deaths from W-18, which is also 100 times more potent than fentanyl, a drug often mixed with heroin.
It’s difficult to say how many people have died from overdosing on W-18 because the existing lab equipment isn’t designed to detect it.
“One of the challenges that we’re going to have with this particular drug is that the labs that we would normally use currently can’t detect it,” Mark Yarema, director of the poison control agency, told the Calgary Herald. “And even if there are fatalities related to W-18, it’s not clear right now that the chief medical examiner’s office is going to be able to always find it either.”
W-18 is a fresh face on the drug scene. The first known seizure of W-18 pills in Canada took place last August 2015.
In the United States, there was a seizure of 1.3 kilograms of W-18 in September 2015.
The potency of W-18 makes it extremely profitable for drug-dealers, and doses are measured out in micrograms, or one-millionth of a gram.
A kilogram of heroin could net $80,000, but the same amount of W-18 could sell for $1.2 million on the streets, according to the DEA.