New ‘designer drug’ a cause for concern

W-18 said to be 100 times more potent that Fentanyl

  • Jun. 10, 2016 9:00 a.m.

CAROLYN GRANT

As reported earlier this year in the Townsman/Bulletin there has been some concern over a street drug Fentanyl or Fentanyl-type drugs causing overdoses. Fentanyl is reported to be 100 times more potent than morphine. Now there is a new drug causing concern — W-18 — although not much is known about it, or whether it is present in the East Kootenay yet, says Dean Nicholson of East Kootenay Addiction Services.

“We haven’t heard more than what is being reported in the media,” Nicholson said.

What is being reported is that police in Delta are urging drug users to be extra vigilant and “know your source” after the new drug was discovered during a recent drug bust.

Police searched labs in Burnaby, Surrey and Richmond and say it’s possible the drug was circulated in all three of those locations.

A Delta Police report says W-18 is 100 times more powerful than fentanyl.

Chief Constable Neil Dubord said, “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. 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 W18, the press release said.

Nicholson is contacting the BC Centre for Disease Control and the national centre in Ottawa as well to see if they will be putting out alerts.

“They haven’t put out anything yet, and I don’t want to over-react. That’s not to say it’s not in town, just not confirmed.”

Nicholson says one of the EKASS clients said someone in town was dealing W-18.

“That could just be the rumour mill. But every drug that’s out there, it comes here eventually.”

The problem is, Nicholson says, that because W-18 has never gone through a pharmaceutical process, he doesn’t know if it’s even detectable.

“If a urine test is done, would a hospital pick up W-18? We don’t know if it’s detectable. At our methadone clinic here, clients must do a urine test. We have had a client say he was doing street fentanyl (which is the drug W-18 is being combined with) and it was not picked up in the urine test.

“What does that mean? The client says he is using but it’s not showing up.”

All those in the EKASS methadone program are given naxalone kits, which can counteract opiate overdoses. It is suggested that with W-18 possible out there, the naxalone kits become even more important.

“Everyone who comes in to our program gets a naxalone kit,” Nicholson said. “We are really pumping it out there.”

The latest figures from the BC Coroner’s Service say that from January through May 2016, an average of 61.6 apparent illicit drug overdose deaths occurred each month. In 2015, the average number of illicit drug overdose deaths per month was 40.3.