W-18 drug 100 times stronger than fentanyl seized in Saskatchewan

WATCH ABOVE: It's worse than fentanyl and it is making its way east from B.C. and Alberta. A deadly drug known as "W-18" has been discovered in Saskatchewan. Meaghan Craig reports.

It’s worse than fentanyl and it’s made its way here. A deadly drug known as W-18 has been discovered in Saskatchewan, mind you we’re only finding out 10 months after the fact.

On Friday, Kindersley RCMP was advised by Health Canada’s drug analysis centre that traces of W-18 were found in one of three counterfeit oxycodone tablets seized last April.

READ MORE: Fentanyl in Canada will get worse before it gets better: RCMP report

The samples in question were seized during a traffic stop on Highway 21 south of Kindersley, Sask., along with fentanyl, cocaine, ecstasy and heroin.

Two people were charged at the time. Trehia Stevenson, of Medicine Hat, Alta., pleaded guilty to possession for the purpose of trafficking and is serving a 16-month sentence.

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Thomas LaClare who faces a total of four counts is set to stand trial on Feb. 14.

“From the release that came from the drug analysis service they told us it was an oxycodone 80 tablet which is green,” Julia Bareham, pharmacist manager for the prescription review program with the College of Physicians and Surgeons, said.

ALERT Calgary’s organized crime and gang team teamed up with Calgary Police Service, Lethbridge Police Service, and RCMP members on two separate investigations last week. Search warrants were executed on October 26 and 28, 2016 and resulted in the seizure of 943 fentanyl pills and 2,771 pills, respectively.

According to authorities, if you thought fentanyl was bad – W-18 is much worse.

“We don’t know a lot about it and that’s our biggest caution,” Bareham said.

“We don’t know how it works. We’re not really sure which receptor it works on, we’re not really sure what it does to the human body.”

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READ MORE: 4kg of W-18, thousands of fentanyl pills seized; Edmonton couple charged

Often used as a cutting agent for opioids, such as fentanyl, it was only a matter of time before W-18 surfaced in Saskatchewan.

It was first discovered during a drug bust in Calgary in August 2015. A total of 110 pills were seized at a home in Rocky View County, believed at the time by police to be fentanyl.

WATCH MORE: Why W-18, a drug 100 times stronger than fentanyl, will be hard to track

Dangerous drug concerns police
Dangerous drug concerns police

However, test results from Health Canada six months later confirmed three pills contained the drug W-18.

“There is no reason to believe it will not appear in the city,” Saskatoon Police Service spokesperson Alyson Edwards said.

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“Typically things move from west to east and we saw that with fentanyl. We’re continuing to see that with fentanyl and we imagine that probably we’ll see the same thing with W-18.”

READ MORE: Saskatoon fire trucks now equipped with fentanyl antidote, naloxone

Part of the “W-Series” of opioid compounds, W-18 was developed at the University of Alberta in 1982. The drug proved to be the strongest of the 32 compounds in the series and for that reason, W-18 was deemed unsafe.

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A dose of fentanyl smaller than a snowflake can kill.

Environment Canada has issued a special weather statement for several locations saying more snow is expected along B.C.'s South Coast.

W-18 is 100 times stronger than fentanyl and 1,000 times more powerful than morphine.

“If they’re taking something that has not been prescribed by a doctor, for them, they are taking their life in their hands,” Edwards said.

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What’s worse, officials with the College of Physicians and Surgeons said so little is known about W-18 – it’s unclear if naloxone will reverse its effects in the event of an overdose.

“If you are a user please use cautiously, again with someone else and don’t be afraid to call 911 if you suspect an overdose,” Bareham said.

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“Your safety and your life is worth more than any concern you have with law enforcement, they’re there to save your life and take care of you.”

READ MORE: Police confirm deadly W-18 discovered in Vancouver


In 2015, W-18 was suspected during an investigation into the overdose death of a 25-year-old man in the province but could not be confirmed.

Tablets at the scene contained both W-18 and fentanyl but given the limitations of toxicology testing, it was not possible to quantify W-18 beneath a certain level within the person’s blood.

Therefore, the office of the chief coroner was unable to determine whether W-18 contributed to this individual’s death.

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