A potentially lethal drug called W-18 has made its way to the City of Vancouver.
Today (June 29), police confirmed the synthetic painkiller was found in a fake OxyContin pill that was taken from a man apprehended for breaking-and-entering in the West End. The arrest occurred on April 8 but test results were not available until June 24.
“We continue to see an alarming increase in overdose deaths throughout the province,” said VPD sergeant Randy Fincham quoted in a media release. “Many of those deaths have been the result of people knowingly, or unknowingly, taking synthetic painkillers such as fentanyl. With the recent appearance of W-18 in the Lower Mainland, the lives of more habitual or recreation drug users are at even greater risk.”
On June 1, Health Canada issued a media release that described W-18 as “extremely dangerous and can be 100 times stronger than fentanyl”. However, that information was later retracted amid questions of how W-18 should be classified and how dangerous it is relative to other drugs.
Despite the confusion, W-18 remains on Schedule 1 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that’s confirmed to be more toxic than heroin, has been found in the victims of fatal overdoses with increasing frequency in recent years. In Vancouver, it is commonly sold as heroin or as fake OxyContin pills that are often green and stamped with the number 80.
Both W-18 and fentanyl can induce feelings of pleasure similar to the effects of heroin or oxycodone. But they are significantly more potent. That means drug dealers can traffic fentanyl and W-18 in much smaller amounts than heroin, which makes it easier for criminals to evade border controls and law enforcement. The same properties also make these drugs more dangerous.
On June 7, Delta Police announced they had found W-18 in drugs seized on March 17 at locations in Richmond, Burnaby, and Surrey. That was the first time W-18 was confirmed to have reached the Lower Mainland.
On May 23, the Globe and Mail reported that W-18 was first detected in Western Canada when it was found in the body of a Calgary man who died of a drug overdose in March.
During the first three months of 2016, fentanyl was detected in 49 percent of illicit drug-overdose deaths. That’s up from 32 percent in all of 2015, 25 percent in 2014, 15 percent in 2013, and five percent in 2012.
During the first four months of 2016, there were 256 overdose deaths in B.C., which means there could be somewhere around 768 by the end of this year. That compares to a previous high of 400 deaths recorded in 1998.