Prescription opiate drugs like Oxycontin and Vicodin have become huge problems for people all over the world. Aside from causing dependence and addiction, they are also dangerous, and responsible for thousands of overdoses and deaths each year. In the last decade, the problem has skyrocketed to epidemic proportions. More recently, however, law enforcement and medical professionals are concerned about a new opiate drug to hit the streets: W-18.
What Is W-18?
First of all, W-18 is not exactly new. It is a synthetic opiate analogue developed in Canada about 30 years ago and is reported to be 100 times stronger than Fentanyl, a highly potent and addictive opiate responsible for many overdoses. For illicit drug organizations, its main appeal is the fact that it’s technically legal.
Originally, W-18 was developed to be a less addictive yet effective pain medication, but no pharmaceutical company picked it up. When a Chinese chemist discovered W-18, no laws had ever been made to control the substance, making it an ideal product. Potent and legally risk-free, it could be sold on the streets for a steep profit. Today, it is believed to be manufactured in Chinese labs and largely purchased online, though similar labs may also exist in Canada and the United States.
Effects of W-18
Unfortunately, little is known about W-18 as the drug has only been tested on mice. However, we do know it is a powerful opiate that is dangerous even in small doses. Still, there is little to no knowledge about its possible long-term effects.
While the majority of W-18 likely comes from Chinese lab productions, there’s a growing amount of independent labs found pressing pills using a combination of drugs such as Fentanyl, Oxycodone and more. They’re sold to individuals who may be unaware of how much W-18 is in each pill or that it contains W-18 at all. Even more frightening, the amounts of drugs used in each pill can vary from one milligram to three or more, making it easy for someone to accidentally ingest a fatal dose. So far, the majority W-18 cases have been found in Canada, though some have also occurred in Philadelphia and Florida.
Designer Drug Danger
For now, Canada is working to have W-18 added to their Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, drawing more attention to this growing drug problem.
However, labs are constantly searching for ways around drug laws, creating new drugs, altering existing drugs or exploiting substances like W-18. Surely, once the W-18 is becomes a controlled substance, illegal labs are simply going to move on to the next drug. This constant search for cheap, easy-to-create drugs that are powerful and addictive leads them to produce and distribute drugs they know little about, resulting in yet another problematic situation.
While we know that drugs such as heroin and cocaine can be dangerous, at least we know what they are, what they can do and how to properly treat an addiction or overdose. With the new breed of “designer drugs” that are on the market, there is often no precedence for the best way to treat the problem. Individuals purchasing these drugs are little more than guinea pigs, often not even aware of what they are taking or the risks involved. Usually, by the time such drugs are identified and made illegal, hundreds or even thousands of people may have already died because of it.
What the Future Holds
As the Canadian government works to make W-18 illegal, the United States is likely to follow suit. But it’s important to remember that illegal substances doesn't stop being a threat. When it comes to recreational drugs, it’s crucial that people are aware that they may not always be getting what they think they’re buying. Future steps should focus on disseminating more information and stemming the flow of designer drugs being shipped from countries like China.