A deadly new drug is showing up on British Columbia streets. It was first developed in 1981 in a University of Alberta lab. The object of the research was to find a better pain killer than opioids. At the university it was named W-18 and tested on mice. It was not what the researchers were looking for and was abandoned for that purpose. It was never tested on humans.
W-18 is one of a group of synthetic compounds that may mimic more traditional street drugs. It appears that it is being sold as heroin or fentanyl, another known killer. W-18 is reputed to be 100 times more powerful than fentanyl and 10 000 times more active than heroin. Bottom line is that it is a killer. The first confirmed death from W-18 was in Calgary. It well may be that more deaths have occurred due to this drug, but cause of death has been blamed on fentanyl.
Health authorities have tried to stem the epidemic of fentanyl deaths in Canada by preparing and distributing overdose kits. The kits are for addicts to have with them in case of a bad reaction. Because W-18 was never intended for humans, health care providers do not know if the kits will save lives of those who have taken W-18.
In the murky world of illicit drugs, the chances of receiving strange and poisonous mixtures can be very high. Rumour has it that suppliers of W-18 know how deadly it is and are trying to palm it off as heroin.
W-18 has been made illegal in Canada this week. It is not illegal in the US at this time. Most countries in Europe have outlawed it. W-18 is believed to be imported from China where it is still legal. The surge in this chemical has occurred shortly after the government of the PRC banned the uncontrolled manufacture of fentanyl.
The control of these mind altering substances is rather like playing whack a mole. As one form of a synthetic is outlawed, a clever chemist can tweak a few molecules to produce something that can give the same desired effect, or death. And the law enforcement people have to start all over again.
There is a legitimate lab in the US that produces chemicals against which the law enforcement people can compare seized goods. The advice of the person in charge of that lab would make any rational person stay far away from W-18.
“We use all the same precautions in handling chemicals like W-18 that we would for a cyanobacterial toxin or aflatoxin (a fungal chemical that attacks the liver and can cause liver cancer),” says Maxey.
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