Monday, July 18, 2016
The Chinese drug that’s 100 times more potent than fentanyl is now showing up in B.C.
The deadly synthetic opioid W-18, a drug 100 times more potent than fentanyl, has turned up in B.C. for the first time.
Sgt. Darin Sheppard, of the RCMP’s Federal Serious and Organized Crime Synthetic Drug Operations, confirmed this week that police have detected W-18 in the province.
“It’s starting to be found in samples in B.C., but only a few at this point,” Sheppard said.
Sheppard said RCMP couldn’t yet divulge in which region the drug was detected, or how much of it was found, but said he expects more to show up in the province.
“It’s not to the same numbers it’s being found in Alberta, but there’s no indication or no reasoning to think that it’s not going to become a problem here, too,” he said.
Colleen De Neve/Calgary HeraldCalgary Police Service Staff Sgt. Martin Schiavetta, of the CPS Drug Unit, held an evidence bag with seized Fentanyl tablets during a press conference to raise awareness around the street drug on March 25, 2015.
W-18 was first synthesized by a trio of chemists the University of Alberta in the early 1980s. Its formula collected dust until labs, which police know are in China, recently began producing it again.
Like the painkiller fentanyl, which is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine, W-18’s high potency makes it far more profitable by weight than heroin, and easier to conceal and ship. Manufacturers and distributors freely exchange the drug over the Internet.
W-18 and fentanyl are both used to manufacture counterfeit prescription pills. Poor mixing of pill ingredients can create concentrated hot spots in them, which cause deadly overdoses in those who consume them.
RCMP have shut down three labs where fentanyl itself was being produced and a half-dozen tableting operations in B.C., Sheppard said. He said he doubts labs are producing W-18 in Canada.
In Canada, W-18 first re-emerged in Calgary, where it was detected in three street-sold pills seized by police last summer. News of its presence triggered concerns over whether naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of opioid overdose, would be effective against its highly toxic effects.
Thursday, provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall declared a “public health emergency” in B.C. in response to the significant increase in drug-related overdoses and deaths.
Fentanyl was detected in approximately 31 per cent of the 474 apparent illicit-drug-overdose deaths in the province last year.
Kendall said there were 201 illicit-drug-overdose deaths in B.C. in the first three months of 2016, and without action, the province could see 700 to 800 overdose deaths by the year’s end.
Sheppard said the discovery of W-18 in B.C. is a “big concern” for police. “The toxicity of W-18 is obviously worse than fentanyl,” he said.
“In terms of the legislative controls over it, we’re pushing forward to get it regulated, but that all takes time, too.”
In February, Health Canada made a proposal to schedule W-18 under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, making it illegal to sell, possess, manufacture or import.
“There is no known evidence demonstrating that W-18 has any actual or potential uses apart from scientific research,” Health Canada said in a notice of consultation.
Vancouver police spokesman Const. Brian Montague said he is not aware of any cases of W-18 turning up in the city, where a high concentration of the province’s opioid users lives in the Downtown Eastside.
In response to the steady rise in opioid overdoses and deaths, health authorities recently increased the availability of naloxone.
A program introduced in January increased the number of paramedics trained to administer naloxone by an additional 525 and expanded training to firefighters in Surrey and Vancouver.
Naloxone became available without a prescription in B.C. last month after Health Canada eased restrictions on it.