EDMONTON — W-18 is 10,000 times stronger than morphine, can kill you, is completely legal and it has now shown up in Edmonton.
Approximately four kilograms of the extremely powerful W-18 powder was seized in Edmonton by the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team. The seizure happened in December 2015, during a fentantyl investigation.
“This chemical powder was submitted to a Health Canada drug analysis lab, said ALERT Staff Sgt. Dave Knibbs. “On April 19, ALERT received formal confirmation from the lab that this chemical was in fact, W-18.”
At a news conference Wednesday, he said the amount of powder seized could have produced “hundreds of millions of illicit pills.”
“To our best knowledge, this is the first time that W-18 has been seized in a powder form in Alberta.”
Knibbs said fentanyl has taken far too many lives across the province and “W-18 represents an even more significant threat.”
Normally at an ALERT news conference, the drugs, firearms and other criminal tools seized during a raid are laid out for the media to examine and photograph. But on Wednesday, that was impossible.
“Because of the toxicity of this powder, if it were to become airborne in a setting like this, all of our lives would be at risk,” Knibbs explained.
Investigators believe the powder that appears “completely benign,” was imported from overseas, and didn’t find any evidence that pills were actually being created with it. “We got this before it hit the street,” Knibbs said.
Dr. Laura Calhoun with Alberta Health Services said W-18 has no medical use and is not current detected in current lab testing — a serious problem in the event of an overdose.
“W-18 is not part of routine drug testing and cannot be detected in urine drug tests,” Calhoun said. Because it is an opioid, naloxone can be used to temporarily reverse the effects of an overdose. “Once naloxone is used, they should call 911,” she added.
“Our message to the public is this: No matter what drug you use, fentanyl and W-18 may be hiding in it. And they may kill you.”
W-18 is a form of synthetic opioid and is 100 times more powerful than fentanyl, which Alberta Health Services has been linked to hundreds of deaths across Alberta. Fentanyl has been said to be 100 times more powerful than morphine.
W-18 comes from a “W-series” of opioid compounds first discovered at the University of Alberta in 1982, according to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control. There are 32 compounds, W-1 to W-32, with W-18 being the most powerful.
W-18 is not currently regulated under the Controlled Drug and Substances Act and can be manufactured and bought freely, according to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.