04/20/2016 04:42 EDT | Updated 04/20/2016 04:42 EDT

W18 Represents More Of A Threat Than Fentanyl: Alberta Police

The drug is currently not illegal.

EDMONTON — Police and Alberta health officials are raising the alarm about a dangerous drug called W-18 that is much more toxic than fentanyl, another synthetic opioid that has been linked to hundreds of deaths in Canada.

Staff Sgt. Dave Knibbs said police in Edmonton seized about four kilograms of a white powder drug in December and tests by Health Canada confirmed it is W-18.

Knibbs said W-18 is about 100 times more powerful than fentanyl and 10,000 times more powerful than morphine.

"Fentanyl has taken far too many lives across the province and W-18 represents an even more significant threat,'' he said Wednesday.

Not regulated

Knibbs said the W-18 powder was likely imported from overseas and could have been made into millions of pills. Small amounts of W-18 have previously been found in Calgary and British Columbia.

Dr. Laura Calhoun of Alberta Health Services said front-line health staff have been warned to watch for overdoses.

Calhoun said W-18 is not regulated by federal drug laws and has no clinical use.

"Our message to the public is this: no matter what drug you use, fentanyl or W-18 may be hiding in it, and they may kill you,'' she said.

Cannot be detected

Calhoun said W-18 cannot be detected by routine drug tests.

Police declined to comment on whether anyone has been arrested or charged as a result of the drug seizure.

Fentanyl has taken far too many lives across the province and W-18 represents an even more significant threat."

Knibbs said it is not illegal to possess or distribute W-18 in Canada right now.

"It is an enormous concern for Health Canada and they are working diligently on it,'' he said.

Health Canada officials were not immediately available for comment.

The department's website says it is proposing to include W-18 in the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to food and drug regulations.

Synthetic opioid

The website says W-18 is a synthetic opioid that was developed as a pain killer. It was patented in Canada and the United States in 1984.

"W-18 has never been marketed commercially and there is no known evidence demonstrating that W-18 has any actual or potential uses apart from scientific research,'' reads the website.

"This included counterfeit tablets that had W-18 as the only active ingredient, but were made to appear like prescription oxycodone tablets.''

Overdose kits available

Calhoun said W-18 is a huge concern and people who use any synthetic opioids should also have a drug called naloxone available, which can counteract the effects of an overdose.

Earlier this year concerns about fentanyl and other opioid overdoses prompted Health Canada to make it easier for people to use naloxone by allowing it to be obtained without a prescription.

Calhoun said last year 272 Albertans died of fentanyl-related deaths. She said W-18 is far more dangerous.

"If people are exposed to W-18 and they have symptoms of overdose, same as fentanyl, they should take naloxone and call 911,'' she said.

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