Over a month ago, W-18, a synthetic opiate known to be 100 times more potent than fentanyl and 10,000 times stronger than morphine, was confirmed by Health Canada for the first time to be found in fake OxyContin pills in Calgary, Alberta.
The drug, which by a conspiracy theory-inducing twist was first developed in Alberta by scientists in the 1980s but is currently believed by police to be coming into Canada from China, is just one more chapter in the massive opiate crisis parts of Canada are currently experiencing. In Alberta last year, there were 213 overdose deaths for which fentanyl was blamed, according to Alberta Health, and about 21,000 of the round, blue-green pills were seized in the province.
VICE spoke to an opiate user on the basis of anonymity who has tried W-18 and has been using fentanyl in the form of the fake OxyContin tablets that have been plaguing Alberta—known colloquially as "beans" among the drug-using community—for over six months. He described himself as having a "very strong tolerance" to opiates. Where he is in Alberta, he said, "fentanyl is easier to get than pot."
He said he was given what he was told was W-18 by a dealer and was doing a small amount of it each day over the course of several days. After doing a line of it that was roughly the length of a quarter and the thickness of a straw, he said, it would kick in after just a few seconds. Soon after, he said he would begin throwing up until his stomach was empty and then would fall asleep for about 30 minutes.
"When you take it, you puke, you pass out—there's really not much of a fun high that goes with it," he said. "With fentanyl, you have your opiate high where you feel good, like you're being embraced by warmth—compared with W-18, doing that's just really killing your dope sickness with the power of a freight train... it's not worth the high compared to a bean."
Though he said he did not overdose on it and is no longer using it, he said he is "incredibly concerned it's going to kill people." Currently, it is unknown whether naloxone, which essentially works to stop opiate overdoses like an epipen halts allergic reactions, would work on someone ODing on W-18.
"I know they've found it in the bean form, but what I saw was them selling it in points, so just in a little dime bag," he said. He claims the drug he was given was in powder form, had a slight pale green colour, and described the drips from it as being milder than those typical with fentanyl, though said this could in part be because you don't need to snort as much of it.
W-18 is not currently regulated under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act in Canada.
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